•                    The History of the Guilford Elementary School’s Courtyard, now known as the Outdoor Classroom

                                                                                      published in August 2018


    Guilford Elementary School was built in 1965, the second elementary school in Sterling Park at that time.  Guilford Elementary School was named in reference to the name Guilford Station train stop before Sterling Park was created.  We celebrated our 50th Anniversary in 2015-16.

     The courtyard, as it was called in the earlier days leading up to 2010, is now known as the Outdoor Classroom.  This is a known history as can be recalled before 2010.  No other recorded information is available.  What is shared here is from documentation with former staff.

     At that time the courtyard had two circular benches built around trees as part of a Boy Scout Eagle Award project from James Thomas, a student at Guilford.  Today, the two benches have been recently cleaned and the printed tags are still in place. 

     There was a kidney shaped bed, outlined in pavers.  It contained overgrown azalea bushes throughout, peppered with some variegated leaf Hostas, mostly on the very small size due to over growth.  Apparently, there was an interest in beautifying the courtyard with the azalea bed and tree variety, but over the years no one was maintaining this bed.

     Multiple trees, mostly deciduous, and two large white pine trees in the center of the courtyard filled most of the large space.  There is no record of when these trees were planted. 

     There are two memorial park benches.  The first in remembrance of a former Reading Teacher,  Linda Thornburg, and the second in remembrance of second grade student, Jennifer Alvarez, who passed away in 2007.

     There are four picnic tables, but there is no record of their purchase.  The courtyard was seldom used, partly due to the double locking doors – eight in total, two pairs on each end of the courtyard – that were not usually unlocked for staff to use.  Custodians would mow the grass and rake leaves occasionally.

     In 1995, Mark Pankau became the Physical Educator at Guilford. Physical Education was the primary subject, but Mr. Pankau adds Health Education lessons, including the importance of eating fruits, vegetables and a healthy lifestyle outside of school.


     In 2010, Teachers were invited to offer students enrichment opportunities after school.

    These activities take place on Mondays after dismissal.  Because of his interest in home gardening, Mr. Pankau invited students to join the Green Beans Environmental Club.

    This club began with reducing classroom waste with recycling.  A Green Thumb Award, which has three green thumb traveling trophies awarded to the best overall score across two grade levels each.  The Green Thumb Award was started to raise awareness with both students and teachers for the need to clean up after themselves, and reuse what was being swept off the classroom floor and thrown in the trash.

     The Green Beans Club members participated in a logo design contest with the winning logo being placed on the front of a trifold informational flyer.  Each year a new logo was designed.

    In 2012 Mr. Pankau open the design contest to all students in grades 3-5, whether they were in the club or not.  This was a way to integrate Art with all these grade students.

     In the first year of the club Beechwood Orchard of Pennsylvania, a vendor at the local Farmers

    Market, began donating a box of mixed variety apples for our three fall apple lessons; apple juice with a juicing machine, dehydrated apple slices and apple sauce.  These lessons cover three consecutive weeks of gatherings.

     A $500 Welch’s grant supplied the garden with hand tools and educational materials.


     In 2012 one of the front hall glass showcases was used to display pictures of gardens, flowers, farm animals, recyclable items, small hand tools, to advertise the Green Beans Club.  This showcase was active for several years.

     School funds were provided for a small greenhouse in the Outdoor Classroom for growing seedlings, which were used for the annual Mother’s Day Plant Sale. 

     In the fall of this year a number of Potomac Falls High School Seniors volunteered to turn the kidney shaped bed soil, in preparation for a native plant bed.  One of those students is a former

    Guilford Gator by the first name of Veronica.

     The Audubon Society awarded Mr. Pankau with a two year, $3,000 Green Kids Grant.  $500 was used to purchase Virginia native pollinator plants for the kidney shaped bed.  Mr. Pankau added some more pavers at the top of the bed to represent the head of a butterfly.  The Green Beans Club members then helped plant the garden bed.

     In 2014 this flower bed was registered as a Monarch Waystation by Monarch Watch.  A sign near one end of the wing of the bed is on display.  With grant monies recycled rubber stepping stones were added that have a butterfly design embossed on the top of each stone.

    Music Teacher Melinda Windsor’s mother made and donated a beaded Monarch Butterfly necklace that took over 40 hours to make.

     As part of the Green Kids Grant an Audubon Naturalist would schedule a fall and spring outdoor session for each class in the grade level, specific to their lessons, or the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) lessons.  These lessons occurred for the two years of the grant.

     Fallen tree leaves are mowed and used as mulch in this bed, and other newer beds of today.


     In the 2013-14 school year a portable tumbler was donated by a 3rd grade teacher.

    Mr. Pankau discovered a former Guilford family, the Hostetter’s, were also into gardening.

    Stephanie Hostetter, with her husband Phil, would plant seedlings for their home greenhouse and garden, and make extra flower and vegetable plants for our annual plant sale.

     The Hostetter’s lived in a solar powered house at the end of West Maple.  The first year the Green Beans Club took a walking field trip after school to learn about solar power from Mr. and Mrs. Hostetter.  After advertising the trip to the school teachers the 3rd grade team has been going during the day each year since.  The Hostetter’s sold their house the summer of 2018, and current plans are to see if the new owners will continue the tradition.

     Agriculture in the Classroom (Ag in the Classroom) Loudoun Chapter and Loudoun Valley High School students, built a barn and silo shaped book shelf and donated 20 children’s books on farming and gardening.  The books are available for check out from the school Library.

     As interest, activities and grant awards continued to increase, Mr. Pankau sought out other school garden teachers in Loudoun County schools.  It was discovered there were some, but there was no way of communicating with each other.  So he traveled to schools he learned had gardens, canvassed the district school’s staff directories, and eventually began to discover there were more than a few school gardens in existence.

     Soon there were school club teacher meetings at the Library in Ida Lee Park, Leesburg.  During these meetings a small group of teachers formed the G.R.E.E.Network (GReat  Environmental  Educators Network), and developed five phases of development (January 2013).

     Mr. Pankau would schedule his own field trips to such places as the Fairfax Hospital.  There he learned how a hospital handles the various recyclables and trash from cafeteria to surgery room.  He also met with their nutrition staff.  All this information was then shared with the Green Beans Club members as one of their weekly lessons.

     The second Environmental Fair was held in the gym during a school day with county organizations and agencies displaying and teaching classes.  The first environmental fair the year before was held on a Saturday morning in the school cafeteria.  Two donated Dogwood trees from Meadows Farm Nurseries were planted, one at each end of the island in the front of the school.


     In 2014-15 the first Virginia Naturally Award was presented for a

    commitment to environmental education and stewardship of Virginia’s natural resources.

     The Nature Generation (aka, Nat Gen) was granted a school assembly to present their annual Green Earth Book Award Author.  These assemblies lasted three years and each year Nat Gen donated a number of these award winning books to our school Library.

     Another school assembly was arranged with the LCPS Energy Office staff, who presented on recycling the first year, and a second assembly on energy savings.  Additional sessions occurred over the years with the Green Beans Club at school and on a field trip to the Chapman-DeMary Trail in Purcellville, and at the third school environmental fair in 2017.

     Club members were introduced to the pollination benefits of the Mason Orchard Bee, from an area beekeeper with many display items from her collection.

     Club members participated in marking all the school storm drains with a label that reads

    No Dumping.  Drains to River, as a part of lessons on the Chesapeake Watershed and all streams and creeks that flow to the Potomac River, and on to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean.

     The club participated in the first of two Loudoun Family Earth Day events near the LCPS Administration Building.  The Club produced a table top display with information, pictures and awards for attending families to investigate.

     Courtesy of Williams Nursery, owner Mike Williams made us a four foot square table garden bed.  Mike welded the frame and supplied the lumber for the side walls, making this the first

    Permanent raised veggie bed for the garden.

     The Green Brilliance Company of Sterling donated a portable solar panel, battery pack and two LED lights that plug into the battery pack for night time lighting.


     In 2015-16 one of the classroom teachers had grandparents who owned a Pennsylvania farm, and produced decorative gourds, along with other vegetables.  They donated boxes of these gourds that were sold to students as a fall season fundraiser for the club.

     Mr. Pankau attended his first School Environmental Action Showcase at George Mason University, co-sponsored by NoVA Outside regional environmental educators group and the Fairfax County Public Schools.  There he met with founders and was able to get Loudoun schools included in future spring events.  The following year the Green Beans Club was on display for the first time.

     Mr. Pankau sought to have the Loudoun school clubs included in the NoVA Outside regional organization, but they did not want to move further west.  And there was another regional in our area, the Loudoun Environmental Stewardship Allliance, but they were not actively involved in the schools. 

     So, Mr. Pankau formed the Northwest Virginia Regional GREENetwork that includes schools in the counties of Loudoun, Fauquier, Clarke, Warren, Frederick and Winchester Schools.

     At this same time Mr. Pankau began to reach out to other non-public schools.  Two have joined with school clubs and gardens; St. Joseph School and St. Veronica School, both in Herndon.


    In May 2017 the Loudoun Education Foundation (LEF) awarded the Green Beans Club a $1,500 grant to establish raised grade level garden.  Over $700 was spent on purchasing steel farm water tanks from Southern States in Leesburg, who gave us a $300 discount before purchase.  The LEF grant was part of the Project Based Learning project by Mr. Pankau.  Reston Bible Church donated ten yards of soil for the beds, and a near dozen men and women from the church helped haul the soil from the front of the school to the raised beds in the Outdoor Classroom.

     Another Boy Scout Eagle Award Project by Daniel McGurdy, produced a 4 ft. W x 8 ft. L x 3 ft. D red cedar Sensory Garden Bed, and complete reconstruction and staining of the four picnic tables.

     That same spring a ribbon cutting ceremony and all school assembly took place in the Outdoor Classroom, with invited guests and dignitaries.  Each grade level presented during the event.  After dismissal that day the third environmental fair took place in the O.C..


     In 2018-19 we were presented with the Eco-Schools USA sign for providing a sustainable and healthy place to explore new educational horizons.  The sign is displayed when first entering the O.C. from the front hall.

     Vulcan Materials Company of Herndon donated 20 small, white granite boulders to ring the O.C. storm drain.  Various plants were planted to act as a Rain Garden, helping to purify the water before it flows towards the Potomac River.

     The E.E. Reed Construction Company, working in the Sterling area at the time donated 75 mid-size bluestone boulders to outline the new Shade Garden.  Mr. Pankau planted hostas and ferns from his house, along with donated Caladiums from Williams Nursery.  Mike Williams used his panel van to help load the bluestone and unload at the school.

     The E.E. Reed Construction Company also donated and delivered a large School Spirit Rock to the front of the school.

     During the summer of 2018 formal discussions began with LESA and the GREENetwork to lay plans for conducting a Loudoun SEAS in the spring 2019.  Both groups committed to cooperating in the joint effort.  The GREENetwork would achieve a long held goal of replicating the SEAS event from NoVA Outside, with their counsel.  LESA sought to re-establish their goal of educating the youth of Loudoun County, and promoting all of their environmental organization’s missions.  The Loudoun SEAS event is scheduled for Tuesday, March 26th at Heritage High School.

     Two new additions for the Outdoor Classroom have been approved.  A portable sink will be installed in the Spring and a garden shed is being donated by the Sterling Home Depot.

    It will be installed during the fall of 2018.


Last Modified on December 18, 2019