Pittsburgh, Pa. – Sept. 22, 2023 – Filled with cheerful optimism and playful exuberance, approximately 20 students from Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Chartiers Early Childhood Center helped staff from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and PNC Foundation cut the ribbon to officially open the school’s new outdoor classroom and green space on September 22.
Over the past year, PPS, PNC and the Conservancy partnered to transform an 18,000-square-foot asphalt parking lot into a safe, green space for children to play and learn. The space, created by the Conservancy and funded by PNC Grow Up Great, will allow the school’s 140 students to play and interact with the natural surroundings and installed structures instead of on a hard, blacktop surface and parking lot.
The new space includes 19 trees, 14 shrubs, 60 perennials to encourage motor skill development, nurture creativity and stimulate curiosity. In addition to the pollinator-friendly perennials and native trees, the outdoor space features ADA-accessible pathways, picnic tables, benches and 122 stepping stones. Other sensory elements include two birdhouses, flower-shaped chalkboards and a nature table, maze, play hill, shed, and fruit-stand play store.
During the event, students explored the outdoor space through interactive play, discovered and observed the trees and shrubs within their play area, and learned about native insects and plants inhabiting the space.
WPC staff and outside contractors built the new space with input from the school’s teachers and administrators. PPS Superintendent Dr. Wayne Walters and other school administrators, and Pittsburgh City Council President Theresa Kail Smith were among the special guests in attendance for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“We are so glad to be able to create green spaces like these where students can play and learn in beautiful outdoor settings on school properties,” says Tom Saunders, president and CEO of the Conservancy. “We appreciate the generous support from PNC Foundation for this school grounds project and so many others that they have funded with us.”
This project marks about a dozen that the Conservancy has completed at PPS early education sites with the support of PNC Grow Up Great since 2014.
“Research tells us that just through spending time outdoors, young children experience benefits to their motor skills development, curiosity and creativity,” said Sally McCrady, chair and president of the PNC Foundation. “We’re so excited about this terrific new outdoor learning space and the opportunities it will provide – both for Chartier’s preschool students to interact with their surroundings, and for teachers to incorporate hands-on nature experiences into their lesson plans.”
The outdoor space provides teachers with numerous opportunities to incorporate daily lessons related to the outdoors, STEM and the natural environment into school instruction. They will also receive portable kits containing educational tools such as binoculars, colorful plant and animal identification guides, and kid-sized gardening tools, to help facilitate greenspace and nature play activities. Learn more about our school grounds greening work.
About the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy:
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) enhances the region by protecting and restoring exceptional places. A private nonprofit conservation organization founded in 1932, WPC has helped establish 11 state parks, conserved more than a quarter million acres of natural lands, protected or restored more than 3,000 miles of rivers and streams, and assessed thousands of wildlife species and their habitats. The Conservancy owns and operates Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and symbolizes people living in harmony with nature. In addition, WPC enriches our region’s cities and towns through 130 community gardens and other green spaces and thousands of trees that are planted with the help of more than 7,000 volunteers. The work of the Conservancy is accomplished through the support of more than 10,000 members. For more information, visit WaterLandLife.org or Fallingwater.org.
Senior Director of Communications