By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — A literacy garden is an outdoor sanctuary where instructors may host a class or students could earn the privilege to read and relax in the open air. For the Marshfield Middle School, it might also teach horticulture skills and introduce a reward system for students’ good behavior.
“Twenty-some years ago, I was doing an independent study, and I designed a landscaping design for around what was then the junior high,” said Marshfield Middle School Principal Mike Nicksic. “But it was pretty extensive considering how big the building is, but it was only to enhance the outside of this historic building.
“Then last year when Washington Elementary was in the news with their outdoor learning center, that’s when lights started flashing, ‘Hey, we could do that on the front of the building here and not focus on landscaping the entire school.’ We could create our own outdoor learning center with the idea of trying to improve the literacy and reading — would be one of the main missions — providing a way for kids to earn incentives, perhaps from study hall, to go out and do some silent reading outside with the hard copies of their novels or literature that they need to read.”
From there, the concept grew to include other learning vehicles as well as an avenue for students to develop a sense of pride in their school.
“We intend to make it a school project from the standpoint that Tim Heeg’s agricultural classes are going to plant annuals there every year,” Nicksic said. “Our middle school is divided into four teams. We have two seventh-grade teams and two eighth-grade teams, so when the time comes, we are going to set up our own list of how it would be used and the culture we want to set up with it for the students to know.
“But then, like in September, team 7-1 may be in charge of any maintenance that needs to be done, whether it’s weed pulling, just upkeep. October would be another team, and then in the spring, in April and May, you would have the other teams that would be working on this, so we kind of make it a school project on maintaining it, upkeeping it, trying to develop a little pride in our school from that standpoint.”
“We want the kids to take ownership of it,” said Carol Berg-Kappel, a retired middle school staff member assisting Nicksic with the project.
“I do have a love for garden. I have a few of my own,” Berg-Kappel added. “I’ve lost both of my siblings, and so that was more reason to give back because they both went to school here, also, and on down the list, my daddy. They were all avid readers, and they would love it, and it just felt right.”
The initial design concept includes a walkway, an amphitheater with boulder seats and a handicap accessible area, a podium for an instructor or student presentations, seating areas, picnic tables, planters, and landscaping.
“It’s going to enhance the building itself but also allow the kids before and after school a place to congregate,” Nicksic explained. “Right now they have no (place). Before school they have to go into the cafeteria. On nice days this will be a place where kids can go and socialize, even after school.”
In addition, Nicksic and Berg-Kappel hope to add a plaque to identify a tree on the school grounds that memorializes a former student.
“The red maple, which few people know, is a memory tree. We had a student killed by a car accident 20 years ago, and there has never been a plaque put there to honor her,” said Nicksic.
No tax dollars would be used to finance the literacy garden project. All funds are planned to come from donations and fundraisers. Four fundraisers are being planned by the middle school’s Parents are Willing Supporters group, which may include a school dance, pizza sale, fun run, and raffle.
To make a donation to the project, contact Mike Nicksic at Marshfield Middle School.