Alexandria, VA

Matthew Maury Elementary

Revamped Schoolyard Encourages Student Success

status

Completed 2017

client

Maury School Yard Initiative

expertise

Education

services

Landscape Architecture

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Taking Learning Outdoors

Matthew Maury Elementary upgraded their play space into a dynamic interactive laboratory where students receive experiential hands-on learning necessary to succeed in school and in life.

Recognizing the relationship between academic success and social and physical development, Matthew Maury Elementary, located in Alexandria, Virginia, sought to rehabilitate their schoolyard to integrate physical activity and outdoor learning into their curriculum. Dedicated to fostering a love of learning, the school desired outdoor classrooms that inspire a willingness to learn and unstructured play opportunities to enhance student achievement. The new space contributes to this goal, helping students become more engaged through hands-on outdoor learning experiences.

This project was a measure of true collaboration among the City of Alexandria, the Alexandria School Board, and the local community, with a large portion of the design and construction budget coming from donations and the tireless fundraising efforts by the non-profit Maury Schoolyard Initiative. Developed alongside parents, students, and staff, LandDesign provided landscape architectural services to reimagine the play space and navigate the City of Alexandria approval process. Once eroded from long-term storm water management issues, the site now includes a multi-purpose synthetic turf field and sports court, playground, bio-retention facilities, and a learning garden with two outdoor classroom spaces and pathways lined by vegetable and flower beds.

Our Vision

Balancing Active Learning with Physical Activity

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The Matthew Maury Elementary play space is a unique learning environment that acknowledges the specific needs and learning preferences of each child. LandDesign worked with parents, teachers, administrators, and students to discuss past issues with the space and shared ideas on how to tailor the outdoor classroom to teachers’ and students’ needs. The new space balances areas between active learning, physical activity, and unstructured play, lending a broad variety of experiences and opportunities to grow.

A primary feature of the play space is the learning garden, which includes two seating areas for outdoor classes, white boards, storage sheds, paved pathways, raised vegetable beds, perennial and herb beds, fruit trees, compost bins, butterfly and wildlife habitats, a weather station, and a human sun-dial. The design also includes an earth science station and rain garden to help children learn about erosion and other environmental issues. Combined, these elements are intended to inspire a curiosity in STEM education through hands-on learning.

A Partner in Out Teach

The learning garden is the first Out Teach, formerly REAL School Gardens, endeavor in Virginia. Out Teach is a national nonprofit that builds learning gardens in elementary schools as a tool to improve student engagement and academic achievement. Out Teach engaged in a collaborative design process with parents, students, and Maury staff to tailor the space to the school’s unique needs and hosted a community volunteer day where more than 150 teachers, students, parents, and community members — including LandDesign staff — gathered to turn the garden’s vision into reality. Out Teach is now a collaborative partner of LandDesign’s, with staff participating in volunteer days annually.

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The Challenge

Forming a Partnership Between Community and City

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What began out of a necessity to resolve long-term stormwater management issues became an opportunity to broaden students’ learning experiences. Due to off-site stormwater management issues, the playground at Matthew Maury Elementary schoolyard was frequently covered in mud and standing water, which prevented the playground from being used. Distressed by the lack of physical development opportunities, parents of Maury students came together to form the Maury Schoolyard Initiative — a specific, focused PTA effort to raise funds for schoolyard improvements. LandDesign developed a conceptual plan envisioning what the schoolyard could become, assisting the Maury Schoolyard Initiative in negotiating a public-private partnership to raise the remaining money to complete the schoolyard renovation project. The first Community Funded Partnership project for Alexandria City Public Schools, this project faced many hurdles to gain approval, but has now created a guide for future community-led capital improvement projects.

Our Approach

A Play Environment that Fully Contributes to a Child's Development

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Physical

Resolve stormwater management issues, regrading and installing drainage systems to make a usable play space.

Functional

Incorporate elements for curriculum-based learning, unstructured play, and structured physical activity.

Social

Add value to community by realizing Maury parents' vision for a play space that enhances their children's social, physical, and cognitive development.

Homepage Header

Physical

Resolve stormwater management issues, regrading and installing drainage systems to make a usable play space.

Homepage Header

Functional

Incorporate elements for curriculum-based learning, unstructured play, and structured physical activity.

Homepage Header

Social

Add value to community by realizing Maury parents' vision for a play space that enhances their children's social, physical, and cognitive development.