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A space to ‘breathe fresh air’

Downing School opens outdoor garden classroom in Malverne

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A decade ago, former Maurice W. Downing Primary School Principal Margaret McDaid and former teacher Jim Cornwell created an outdoor garden at the school in Malverne. An area where students could be closer to nature, the garden was used mostly by the school’s Garden Club. Some parents, however, saw more potential for it.

About four years ago, then PTA Co-presidents Hayley Kelch and Camille Emeagwali proposed the idea of an outdoor classroom to Principal Ed Tallon, after seeing one during a field trip to Tanglewood Preserve in Rockville Centre.

“Through the help of so many PTA volunteers, fundraising, planning and a lot hard work, this day became a reality,” Tallon said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the classroom last Friday. “This garden will leave a special legacy from the PTA for years to come.”

Former and current PTA members gathered with students, district officials, local elected officials and village leaders for the ceremony. The all-season outdoor classroom will facilitate numerous activities, such as science, exploration, story time, art and club events. Current PTA Co-president Nicole Henderson, who helped to complete the garden last year, thanked everyone who contributed to it.

“This was not a one-person job,” Henderson said. “This took a team. So many people made this vision come true. I couldn’t have done any of this without this team, so I’m very appreciative of them.”

Downing’s PTA raised funds through its annual Downing Night Out, at which community members enjoy an evening of dinner, dancing and raffles to support events at the school throughout the year. Additionally, the PTA had the support of numerous local businesses.

Malverne Mayor Keith Corbett said that the garden would provide students with unique learning opportunities. His wife, Elicia, a member of the PTA’s Garden Committee, put together design plans for it. “All of you did such an instrumental job to really transition and create this amazing space,” Corbett said. “Having a nice outdoor learning space is really something that is necessary, and it’s a vision that you all had long before Covid.”

“This beautiful hands-on garden will not only enrich and enhance the learning and creative environment, but will serve as a respite for students and offer an ideal way to connect with each other, their teachers and nature,” said State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, who awarded a citation to the school.

District Superintendent Dr. Lorna Lewis said that communication among district leaders and PTA members played a key role in the garden classroom’s completion. Lewis, who became superintendent last August, said that one of her goals was to work closely with parents on ideas like this one.

“I said it from day one, we could really move mountains when we work with the PTA,” Lewis said. “It’s so fortuitous that this garden is available at a time where we need the outdoors. We need to breathe fresh air and be able to explore our surroundings, and this will give us the opportunity to do so. We always leave a place better than we found it, and all of [the] PTA members certainly have done that.”