Lauren Arbogast (left) and Lisa Heatwole stand next to their vertical wall garden on the roof of the Elon Rhodes Early Learning Center in Harrisonburg. Arbogast and Heatwole were selected by the Harrisonburg Education Foundation (HEF) for the first annual EMU Teacher Grant for their outdoor rooftop classroom project. (Photo by Bob Adamek)

Alumni awarded EMU Educator Grant for outdoor rooftop classroom

Students at the Elon Rhodes Early Learning Center in Harrisonburg will now have the opportunity to attend class outdoors, sitting at rooftop picnic tables, learning at the vertical wall garden, or experimenting with the rain barrel. This is thanks to Lauren Arbogast and Lisa Heatwole, two teachers selected by the Harrisonburg Education Foundation (HEF) for the first annual EMU Teacher Grant. 

Heatwole has been at Elon Rhodes since it was built, and through the years noticed that the rooftop patio area was not being utilized. When Arbogast joined her team this year, the pair decided to address the issue and create an accessible, welcoming learning space for the 150+ students at the school.

“We wanted components for outdoor exploration such as a waterfall for children to play in along with an outdoor garden space,” the teachers wrote about their proposal. “We wanted each classroom to have an area to plant and grow things. Our hope is that this is just the beginning of what this space can be and hope to continually add to it.”

Elon Rhodes Early Learning Center is home to three different services offered by HCPS: the Virginia Preschool Initiative, Shenandoah Valley Head Start, and the Early Childhood Special Education Program. Each program serves a different population of children aged 2-5, including those from families with limited financial resources and children with disabilities; among their services are transportation, specialized instruction and therapy services.

Arbogast and Heatwole also partnered with the local soil and water conservation district, the local Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA-NRCS), Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom, Virginia Cooperative Extension / Master Gardeners, and in-kind contributions by local volunteers.

The grant funded durable picnic tables, vertical wall garden stations for each class, a gravity water station, a rain barrel, and an outdoor teaching station. 

“It is a great example of the amazing things happening across HCPS,” said Cody Oliver, executive director of HEF. “Elon Rhodes Early Learning Center supports our youngest students and the school has been working towards their rooftop classroom for multiple years.”

HEF’s Innovative Educator Grants support teacher-generated classroom ideas in Harrisonburg City Public Schools. Last year, EMU made a donation to establish the specific EMU Educator Grant, targeting projects that were led by HCPS educators who were alumni or attended EMU. 

This donation was combined with other unrestricted funds to support the rooftop classroom project at Elon Rhodes Early Learning Center this year. Funded projects facilitate learning in all five of Virginia’s newly adapted Early Learning and Development Standards. 

Join the Discussion on “Alumni awarded EMU Educator Grant for outdoor rooftop classroom

  1. How wonderful for the children of our community.
    Kudos to the teachers for their imagination and industry and for their love of teaching.

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