Goode school courtyard earns another ecological honor

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch
  • The courtyard, revamped several years ago, is now earning certifications for its ecological vitality.
  • Students will benefit from the upkeep, as York College plans to integrate future teachers with the courtyard.

Students at Goode K-8 in York City have another badge of honor for their school’s contribution to the local ecosystem.

Kem Mirsky, left, attempts to plant a sign by the National Wildlife Federation with the assistance of York City school volunteer Deb Etters at the Goode K-8 courtyard on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017.

Goode’s courtyard was recently designated a Certified Schoolyard Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, the latest certification in the temporarily dormant yet blossoming school sanctuary.

The school is now one of more than 5,000 schools certified by the federation for its value in allowing kids to learn hands-on within the habitat.

The courtyard has also earned a Pollinator Friendly Garden certification from the Penn State University Master Gardeners, another indicator of healthy ecological adherence.

While the titles might not mean much to students focused on getting the most out of the courtyard, volunteers say it will go a long way toward improving student morale and understanding instruction.

Students “see the cycle of life right behind their classroom,” said Kem Mirsky, a volunteer at the courtyard.

“They see plants grow, get cut down and stay in place all year. Some didn’t know where this stuff went in the fall,” she added.

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Mirsky is also a member of Temple Beth Israel, a synagogue in York Township.

The synagogue has had a long-standing relationship with the school, named after Alexander D. Goode, a former rabbi of Temple Beth and one of four chaplains who died after giving their life jackets to soldiers aboard the sinking SS Dorchester during World War II.

Mirsky, a former Penn State Master Gardener herself, said the view of ducklings walking by and butterflies flying across the courtyard is a refreshing sight in the school’s urban environment.

For decades, the courtyard was mostly kept by the Garden Club of York. After the club discontinued its involvement in the mid-2000s, the courtyard was mostly dormant.

Temple Beth’s social action effort, known as “Doing Good for Goode,” started courtyard work at the school in 2014, Mirsky said.

After some voluntary efforts by regional landscaping company Hively Landscapes on Earth Day 2015, much of the courtyard’s current infrastructure was rebuilt, including raised beds and much-needed maintenance of weeds, over eight hours.

“It was like the Marines had landed,” Mirsky said.

Since then, Doing Good for Goode members and other community volunteers have kept the property in a healthy ecological state.

Today, the 95-by-180-foot interior courtyard has a pond with koi, compost bins, a pumpkin patch and beds of plants and vegetables, including sunflowers, strawberries and carrots.

In addition, the walls enclosing the quad are decorated with murals of wildlife and plants.

The courtyard’s pollinator-friendly trees and shrubs attract an array of insects and animals in the spring and summer months.

“There’s quite a lot of wildlife that makes its way over here,” said Deb Etter, a volunteer at the school. It’s quite common to see birds, toads, ducks and caterpillars making their way into the habitat as the weather gets warmer.

Greenhouse included: One recent loss was a tree on the courtyard’s west end, which was cut down to make way for construction of an automated greenhouse by York College Engineering seniors under the supervision of York College electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Jason Forsyth.

Permits were approved, and construction is set to begin soon after students return from their winter break, according to Mirsky.

After the greenhouse is built, York College will have ongoing involvement at the school through its education department.

Elementary education students from the college will develop and implement science curricula to further connect the greenhouse with student success at Goode.

“Students have developed and implemented several interdisciplinary lessons across multiple grade levels. They are excited to continue this work in coming semesters as the greenhouse is completed,” said Nicole Hesson, assistant professor of education at York College, in a news release.