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Courtyard Transformation at Lakota East

Thinking outside the box doesn’t just apply to teaching and learning. At Lakota East, you might even say they’re thinking outside the classroom. Over the summer, an unused courtyard was transformed into a therapeutic outdoor space for students and staff.

Michelle Quarry, one of the school’s mental health therapists from Cincinnati Children’s, came up with the idea after watching the courtyard sit empty from her office window. After scouring Pinterest for ideas, Quarry enlisted a few students and friends to help with the transformation.

overgrown grass and bush by brick building trimmed bush mulch sand pit with rake

“The space can be used for students, clients, teachers or anyone to relax and gather their thoughts, or simply take a timeout,” explained Quarry. “It’s an outdoor version of a re-set room.”

After a few weekends of hard work, the courtyard looks like a completely different space. It now includes seating areas with benches and Adirondack chairs, student-created flower sculptures made from old hubcaps, a Zen garden, bird feeders and more. After her student helpers made the suggestion, Quarry also used benches to set up a coffee table area.

The feedback Quarry has received has been overwhelmingly positive. “I really like it,” said one Lakota Central student who helped create the space. “I feel like being outside puts me in a better mood.”

silver hubcaps cables blue rocks white hubcap red rocks flower made from painted hubcaps

Students and clients helped create the hubcap sculptures, thanks to the generosity of Stricker’s Auto Parts in Batavia. The auto supply store donated hubcaps and other items that were transformed into a two-sided work of art in the center of the space.

Another feature of the courtyard is a rock garden that incorporates “Lakota Rocks” that were painted at the school’s open house last year. “Painting rocks is therapeutic,” said Quarry. “It’s detailed. It’s focused. The next thing you know, my clients don’t feel so anxious, moody or sad.” Quarry’s clients are able to paint a rock during sessions if they choose. Once completed, the students can add their creations to the rock garden.

The project was funded through donations and cast-off items Quarry came across. In addition to Stricker’s Auto Parts, she is grateful for a generous donation from Susan Sheldon at MindPeace, the organization that partners with Lakota to provide mental health therapists in each school.

“Michelle wanted a new experience for students - a change of scenery,” said the Central student. “We’re in a classroom all day. It’s nice to be able to go outside.”

“It’s about paying things forward,” noted Quarry. She’s grateful for her volunteers who spent part of their summer gardening and painting to create the new space, and, of course, the East administration team who gave her the go-ahead. She’s also enlisted the help of some special education classes who have students in charge of filling the bird feeders. 

Quarry is still on the hunt for a few more additions to the space, including two-to-four wrought iron chairs, river rock and mulch. Anyone interested in donating to the courtyard can email Quarry at


  • mental health