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News Community Highlands School gets outdoor classroom

Last Tuesday, commissioners recognized Macon County residents Stephanie Smathers and Rebecca Schilling for their work constructing a courtyard at the Highlands School.

Smathers, who teaches science at Highlands, developed the idea and reached out to Schilling, member of the Mountain Garden Club and other members of the community to work together to beautify the Highlands campus by turning the school courtyard into an outdoor classroom.

The development of the outdoor courtyard became an educational experience for the Highlands students. Students from Kara Faust's art class provided the flare for the courtyard's two-tier sitting wall, which acts as seating for the classroom. They worked to provide ceramic birds, flowers and tree limbs that art students decorated to be embedded in the stone of the wall.

Aligned with the stones and artwork, is a signature piece that displays the name of all the student artists who helped to uniquely beautify the outdoor classroom.

Karen Faust’s art class provided the flare for the courtyard’s two-tier sitting wall.The project was a culmination of complete community support from funds donated to the man hours it took to complete it. Tate Landscaping and County Commissioner Jimmy Tate orchestrated the project. "Commissioner Tate volunteered his time and expertise to guide us every step of the way," said Smathers. "He helped with all aspects of the project, and we could not be more appreciative of everything he did.”

Last fall, Tate Landscaping began the process of transitioning the crumbling space from a crumbling pass through to a beautiful usable space.

According to Smathers, one the most important issues addressed in constructing the classroom was the problem with drainage causing structural damage to the school property.

Ceramic birds, flowers and tree limbs accent the stonework throughout the new courtyard classroom."I was up there last week, and with all this rain, aside from how great it looks, just fixing the drainage has done a lot for the school," said Commissioner Ronnie Beale.

After fixing the drainage issues, Tate Landscaping, with the help of student volunteers, removed dying trees and shrubbery, installed pebbled concrete walkways, and planted new greenery. "Students stayed after school to volunteer their time to help with this project," said Smathers. "From construction to purpose, this courtyard fully belongs to the students." From the stones to the greenery,

Schiling explained that the materials used in beautifying the courtyard are all native to the area. Native flagstone stepping stones zigzag through the courtyard and are joined with native grasses and plants.

The courtyard has already been utilized by several groups including a lesson from Patrick Brannon of the Highlands Biological Station for third grade students.

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