Danforth Middle School Garden Design
Syracuse, New York
Danforth Middle School is located on East Brighton Avenue in Syracuse’s southwest neighborhood. The school population of about 500 students in 6th, 7th and 8th grades is 98% African American with a growing refugee population. Lauren Angelone, school social worker, contacted the CCDR after receiving a service-learning grant, with the desire to create a butterfly garden on the school grounds. After the first meeting with Ms. Angelone and two eighth grade teachers, it became apparent that there was great potential for a garden to provide educational, environmental, and social benefits. The proposed site is about 60’ x 120’, located directly adjacent to the western face of the school building. It was identified as the likely garden site because of its central location on the school grounds, a highly visible location, which could have a positive impact on both the school and surrounding neighborhood.
Topic Areas: School garden design, student engagement, design & build
Project Scale: Small urban community garden
Accomplished By: Maren King, Rebecca Kanfer, (with assistance from graduate students Amber Rohe and Amber Waery).
Partners: Danforth Middle School steering committee: Lauren Angelone, Melissa Sutton, and Melanie Stevens.
- How are gardens meaningful/ beneficial in a school setting?
- What community resources are available to the school?
- What are methods to coordinate planning and implementation of meetings, activities and objectives among people and organizations that have very different schedules?
- How can an urban public school accomplish the long-term maintenance and stewardship of the garden?
The Danforth Garden Design began as collaboration among a core group of people – two eighth grade teachers (art and science) and a school social worker from Danforth Middle School, and the CCDR director and a CCDR graduate assistant in the landscape architecture department. The social worker initiated the project with a service-learning grant and provided a guiding vision for the purpose of the garden. The teachers organized connections with the students and assisted in planning educational workshop activities. The CCDR facilitated the process, provided educational assistance in the student workshops, and created design alternatives for the garden site.
There were several major goals for this project including engagement of students in the design and creation of the garden, gaining acceptance and/or involvement from members of the school and greater community, and to begin an educational conversation about the aesthetic, environmental, and social benefits that gardens can bring to the school and community. Engagement of the students was a core element in the process – how to include them in the design process, use their ideas in the final design, and involve them in the implementation and long-term maintenance.
The planning process was accomplished primarily through 45-minute weekly meetings at Danforth Middle School supplemented with individual tasks and emails; it was during these meetings that the project goals, activities and schedules were worked out. They made it possible to maintain a regular dialogue about the project, assign weekly tasks, and establish short and long-term goals and actions.
The design process was organized around engaging an eighth grade earth science class and an eighth grade art class which were taught by the two teachers involved in organizing the garden project. The CCDR performed initial inventory and mapping of the site to be sure it was a suitable location. Students contributed to the design process through workshops organized in a sequence that first explored their experiences and understanding of gardens. Next, the science class inventoried the site and made observations about existing conditions, and the art class drew individual designs and wrote a brief description for the garden site.
Following the workshops the CCDR analyzed and synthesized the information generated and shared by the students. The inventory – including sun exposure, desire lines, slope, soil and pH testing, - was used to help make decisions about locating pathways, planting beds and selecting plant material that could exist with minimal maintenance. The student drawings were combined on a trace overlay to find several alternatives for the design layout. Other details that students included in their drawings and writings were documented in a matrix to inform the character and size of spaces, kind of planting beds, and site furnishings.
The CCDR developed three organizational diagrams from the student drawings and reviewed them with the Danforth core team. Through discussion of the alternative diagrams, the core team agreed upon a conceptual approach. The CCDR developed a draft master plan that was presented by the Danforth team at a staff meeting, and to the School District for approval.
The garden implementation process began during the last week of May, with selection of the first area to be installed; the teachers chose the location and the size was determined by the CCDR through cost analysis. A planting plan was generated by the CCDR and then a field trip to a local garden center was organized by the teachers. The core team guided the 40 students from the art and science classes through selection of annuals, perennials, and shrubs for the garden. The garden planting occurred in the second week of June over a span of three days, and included 18 classes (approximately 150-200 students) from Danforth Middle School. Given the number of people involved this required a carefully planned process, with a high level of instruction and exploration through the planting process.
Volunteer staff, teachers, and a small group of students are maintaining the garden over the summer, which will continue into the school year. Continued growth of the Danforth Garden is envisioned for the next two to five years; this will occur as the maintenance support becomes established and resources are available.