Education 2011: Tapestry grows its own

“Our philosophy is collaboration,” says Tapestry Charter School cofounder and executive director Joy Pepper. The latest manifestation of that mission is a new outdoor classroom, playground, and community garden—a project driven from the start by parents in conjunction with the school’s faculty and administrative staff.

As Pepper puts it, both she and Tapestry have long dreamed of a space where children can not just play but participate in “outdoor science labs, garden, grow herbs, and [learn about] food.” Dubbed “Experience Play + Learning,” the dream took its first steps toward becoming a reality when the school moved last year from 40 North Street to 65 Great Arrow Avenue. Another major boost came when the project was selected to participate in the nationwide Pepsi Refresh Challenge, a fundraising contest offering $50,000 toward building expenses based on online voting this past June. (Results of the contest were not available as we went to press.) This month, it all comes together during a five-day community build that starts on September 17.

The vegetable and herb garden will give children hands-on experience as they learn how seeds and seedlings planted in the ground make their way to the kitchen. Tapestry parents came up with the idea “to see how much we could potentially grow,” Pepper says. The school is already proud of the locally grown fare it serves for lunch—“Everything is fresh and cooked from scratch,” she adds—but the ability to pick tomatoes straight from the vine, to have the flavors of fresh-picked mint explode on the tongue, and to witness exactly how each plant reaches maturity is an entirely different experience. Students will also plant bulbs around the schoolground to learn how flowers develop throughout the seasons.

The Experience Play + Learning Project will also feature five more distinct sections with a picnic site in the center. The first of these will be a playground for kindergarten through fifth-grade students, with an emphasis on health and wellness in addition to sheer fun. Tapestry’s physical education instructors met with the project’s designers to select muscle building and strengthening apparatuses alongside slides and other traditional equipment. The second area will be a “learning garden” incorporating logs, wild grasses, a gravel pit, and an outdoor water area where younger students can, as Pepper puts it, “connect to what they learn in science [class].” Area three, intended for fifth-graders and up, will be composed of nets and climbing structures where team-building activities can take place. The fourth area will be a soccer field. The fifth will be a wooden structure with a green roof that will act as an outdoor science center where kids can watch things grow. Behind it, a terraced piece of ground similar to an amphitheater will function as a stage for theater and dance. Children in the lower grades made tiles this past year to be put into the posts for the structure as part of the decorative design. The arts will further be included in the new space with an outdoor art space and painting fence. The playground will be situated behind the school and fenced in for safety, but will also be open to the community.

On September 17, more than 150 volunteers will unite for an intense five-day building period. They’ll be bringing life to plans that have already brought together local architects, parents, the school’s administration board, and the young students themselves. That may sound like a lot of voices in the mix, but this kind of community-wide involvement is what Tapestry Charter School is all about. As Joy Pepper says, “It’s who we are, and how we function.”

Spree intern Elizabeth Miller is currently a senior at Smith College. For more information on Tapestry Charter School and the Experience Play + Learning Project, visit

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