The first phase of the Alton Darby Elementary outdoor classroom garden has been completed. Teachers and students are already taking advantage of the seating, patio area and what little landscaping has been done.

The first phase of the Alton Darby Elementary outdoor classroom garden has been completed. Teachers and students are already taking advantage of the seating, patio area and what little landscaping has been done.

"Every class has been out there and used it for something," said parent volunteer Amy Curtiss-Kast.

Curtiss-Kast, along with art teacher Becky Bowers, was involved in planning stages of the garden last year when the project was launched. She watched as the first phase was completed during the spring and summer months.

Kindergartners through fifth-grade students have found their way into the garden, which is about to enter its second phase of construction.

"Over the summer, an Alton Darby Elementary family generously donated several palettes of their used paversfor the paths," Curtiss-Kast said, referring to plans for paths which will wind through the garden. "We are trying to assemble parents from the school and other community volunteers that have the skill and would be willing to help us lay the bricks."

Curtiss-Kast said they have the materials for the paths, but now they need the labor force willing to volunteer their time to teach brick laying or to lay the bricks free of charge.

After using a grant from Lowe's "Toolbox for Education" program and a grant from the Greater Columbus Arts Council as part of the Franklin County Neighborhood Arts program, Curtiss-Kast said engraved bricks were sold for the remainder of the cost of constructing the first phase.

They are hoping to continue their sale of the brick pavers to complete the second phase now that Buck and Son's Landscaping has constructed the seating and patio.

Jillian Cross, a fifth-grade teacher, said she bought a brick in memory of her grandmother and various classrooms bought bricks last year.

When she took her current students to the outdoor classroom, she said, they quickly spotted the brick they purchased as a class. Then they noticed that there was a brick with the name Helen Cross on it and asked about it.

"I told them that was my grandmother," she said.

Cross said her students have always been crammed into the classroom as they read their lines over and over using a tool known as Reader's Theater.

The outdoor classroom is the ideal setting to hold the theater, with one class reading while another listens.

"The garden allows us to take all 50 kids out there," said Cross.

Curtiss-Kast said the garden is also used for silent reading.

Jordan Main has taken her second-grade class to the garden to gather writing ideas or writing seeds.

"Lots of authors and writers use this strategy of keeping a notebook of ideas that they can refer back to when coming up with writing pieces," she said. "We are talking about writing down our observations and using our five senses."

The garden has proven to be the ideal setting for group discussions, according to Cross, even though the landscaping has not been completed.

"It is a work in progress," Curtiss-Kast said.

Ten-year-old twins Eryn and Emily Henderson said they enjoy going out into the garden, particularly as they perform the Reader's Theater.

Eryn Henderson, who recently read in "Lightning Larry" and "Rabbits for Sale," said Reader's Theater helps a lot of people become better readers.

Emily Henderson, who assumed the role of Zarloona in "Some Wisdom is Dumb" during Reader's Theater, said she likes to read in the garden while in costume.

"It's fun being out there and reading a story to other people," she said of the garden.

"They finished their first stage and it is pretty nice, but they still have work to do."

The first-grade students are "buddies" to fifth-grade students, according to Emily Henderson, and it is fun to read to them outside.

"I don't know what grade I will be in when it is finished," she said of the garden, "but I will come back when it is done and see it."