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Steenrod Elementary School Students To Plant Herbs, Hope For the Future

Photo Provided – The current Steenrod Elementary School playground is about to get upgrades with help from a $5,000 Intermediate 1 Benedum Foundation grant and $5,000 from the Ohio County Board of Education.

WHEELING – Young students at Steenrod Elementary School soon will be making mud pies outside where they play, and maybe even baking a real pizza pie at the end of the school year, with herbs and vegetables they’ve helped grow.

Principal Michelle Dietrich and preschool teacher Beth Wallace told the Ohio County Board of Education of their plans to expand their outdoor play and instruction area for students at the school.

Dietrich calls the area the “primary kiddos play space,” where students in pre-kindergarten through second grade spend time.

The school already has received a $5,000 Intermediate Unit 1 Benedum Foundation grant to purchase a “mud kitchen” for the dirt area where the children play, and to establish a “pizza garden” where students will plant herbs, cherry tomatoes and other vegetables for pizza.

Included in the grant was a request to install a shade cover over the area. Dietrich and Wallace instead asked board members to match the $5,000 grant to pay for the shade cover, giving the school some extra dollars to buy supplies for the mud kitchen and pizza garden. Board members agreed, and the school district will provide money for the work.

The mud kitchen already has been purchased and assembled. It is a child’s kitchen set that can be played with outdoors, Dietrich explained. The pizza garden is a circular planter divided into six sections where pizza herbs and vegetables can be planted.

There will also be a water trough placed near the mud kitchen so the students can use and play in the water, according to Dietrich.

“It’s fun for kids, and a learning experience,” she said. “That’s the thing. A lot of times we look at playgrounds and think it’s just play, but there is so much they learn while they are out there and getting in the dirt.

“They love getting out there in the dirt and in the gravel pit.”

There also is blacktop in the area, plus sit-upon scooters and a playhouse for students.

There already are some raised garden beds near the play space which have been used by the school to grow vegetables with the help of Grow Ohio Valley.

That didn’t get to happen this year amid the pandemic, Dietrich said.

She acknowledged the students do get dirty while playing in the dirt and gravel, but that is alright for the most part.

Dietrich said there is one little girl who always comes to school “dressed to the nines,” but she still really likes to play in the gravel pit.

“We told her mom, and she is OK with it. She said, ‘It will wash,'” Dietrich said.

The school looks like it has a large play area where a playground should be in place, but it actually is a football field used by nearby Triadelphia Middle School more than half of the school year, she said.

As such, the school has never had actual playground equipment. Staff has instead focussed on creating sensory areas for students, Dietrich said.

Once the work is completed, a commission will be formed to determine plans for a playground for the older children in grades 3-8, she said.

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