Ten Years Celebrating Chenery’s ‘Magical’ Courtyard

For about 10 minutes on a bright and warm early June afternoon, a small section of the Chenery Middle School was transformed into a forest outside Athens occupied by actors, musicians and spirits telling a midsummer tale.

As part of the celebration to celebrate a decade of a “magical” transformation, guests and students gathered in the school’s garden courtyard for a short performance of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream” in the space that 12 years ago was a concrete and brick space.

Today, trees and plants grow near gardens in elevated planters while a small pond allows wetland flora to bloom while a patio space allows for classes to take place.

In the shade of one of the trees, Belmont Senior Center’s The Bellaires serenaded the attendees while just inside the nearby hallway, artwork by the Chenery students inspired by the courtyard garden fill the space. After the concert, Morning Glory and sunflower seeds were handed out as tokens of the courtyard that residents could plant in their own homes.

“This project is a plus for anyone who comes here, from seniors to the children,”  said Phyl Solomon of the Massachusetts Audubon’s Habitat Intergenerational Program and one of the inspirations behind the project’s creation and growth from an abandoned and forgotten interior space.

Over the years, most everything has been carried into the site including the trees, brush, dirt and other items that makes a garden. Now when visitors arrive, they are greeted by a view of shaded park benches, stone walls, small pond, a bird’s house (and a nest) and trees, ground covering along with flowers and vegetables which is used by the school.

During its transformation, the school has begun a “Courtyard Club” so students can lend a hand in the maintenance and care of the garden and space.

“The one thing I really like about the Courtyard Club is that it’s open to anybody and that’s very special to me,” she said.

Ian Svetkey, a Chenery 6th grader and Club member, said “I like digging up things and chop things and pull things up and lots of other stuff.”

The site is increasingly being used for educational learning. Chenery Visual Arts Teacher Kathleen Byrnes said the courtyard is a wonderful classroom because it’s “incredibly inspiring” in allowing her students to “connect to nature and the science part of learning.”

“It’s exciting to have this huge spider web and my students sees nature in action for our science sketchbooks and journals,” said Byrnes.

“I love this space so much,” she added.

For Solomon, the 10th anniversary is hardly a time to think the courtyard has reached its zenith.

“This is an on-going project,” said Solomon. “This will never be a finished project because there is always something new coming in,” she noted.

“I think its amazing,” she said.

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