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Celebrating Five Years of the Caroline Wilderness Garden

Students at Caroline Elementary recently helped beautify their school’s wilderness campus during a service learning day that also kicked off the outdoor space’s five-year anniversary.

Students planted flowers, pulled weeds, and performed other gardening tasks on the 21-acre campus while learning lessons about teamwork and nature during I Am Needed Day. 

In all, classes moved nine cubic yards of soil and 12 cubic yards of mulch, planted over 300 bulbs, and removed enough weeds to fill a wheelbarrow in just 20 minutes.

The service learning days – held in the fall and spring – help to maintain Caroline’s sprawling wilderness campus, which includes an outdoor classroom, nature trail, flower beds, and several gardens. Teachers use the outdoor area as a stage for nature-based case studies.

Caroline’s wilderness campus was established in 2013 with the help of a grant from the Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI) and a vision from retired teacher Janie Moon Clark, who saw how the school’s surrounding grounds could be used as an educational outdoor space.

The trail, classroom, and gardens provide spaces for students to learn about living in, and caring for, the natural world, Clark said, and involving students in maintenance allows them to practice collaboration, teamwork, and practical applications for lessons learned in the classroom.

Fifth-grader Isabella Inigo-Payne, who helped move mulch from a truck onto a flower bed in front of the school, said helping to beautify the campus was more exciting than a typical lesson.

“It’s fun,” Inigo-Payne said, enthusiastically shoveling more mulch onto the pile. “It’s satisfying, too.”

After finishing their work, students watched a performance of “The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses,” staged by participants in this summer’s Caroline Wilderness Performance Academy. ICSD Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown then cut the ribbon on a wooden platform that will be used to display student work.

Many students were heard saying “I am needed today,” but Principal Mary Grover hopes the lessons learned during the service day will last.

“All year, we’re going to remember that we’re all needed,” she told them.

Belle Sherman
Beverly J Martin
Cayuga Heights
Fall Creek
South Hill
Boynton Middle
DeWitt Middle
Ithaca HS
Lehman Alternative


Ithaca City School District
Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent
400 Lake Street
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 274-2101