Planting Seeds of Knowledge, Exploration, and FUN

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Makeovers feel good.

They inspire a sense of renewal and vigor.

Thanks to generous United Inner City Services (UICS) community partners, our Metro Center’s outdoor play space has experienced an incredible transformation and further ignited our students to learn and thrive. 

Porsha Locke, UICS-Metro Center Director of Early Learning and Inclusion explained, “We wanted to create an outdoor classroom to support our Early Childhood Hands on Science (ECHOS) curriculum with intentional spaces and natural materials where the children could connect and explore the natural outside world.” 

UICS’ Creative Curriculum recognizes that young children learn best by doing. All UICS schools embrace individuality and support exploration. Teachers employ the use of curriculum studies and the Project Approach while recognizing the interests of the children to expose them to new concepts and ideas.

UICS-Metro Center Student Success Coordinator (and garden enthusiast), Nanell McAlpin has been leading new outdoor gardening experiences for our students. “In concert with the research-based idea that children are naturally curious and learning about their world all the time, we are giving our students a broader learning environment by creating a nature-based classroom outside on our playground.” 

To make our vision transition to reality, an incredible UICS partner and early childhood education advocate generously responded to our ambitious request for an outdoor classroom. PNC Bank graciously supplied funding to enable UICS-Metro Center’s playground to start the process of becoming a certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom. Nature Explore is a national nonprofit program that helps schools and organizations incorporate nature into children’s daily learning. Classroom certification requirements include the creation of a well-designed outdoor space with a variety of areas to explore multiple disciplines, staff development, and family involvement. 

Porsha shared, “We are very close to getting certified, and we will be one of only a few places in Kansas City that has an official Nature Explore Classroom.” There are three sites total, two in the Kansas City metro area and one in Shawnee.  

Nature Explore first visited UICS-Metro Center to meet with staff and assess the playground space. From there, they devised an outdoor classroom design plan and made material and resource recommendations. In coordination with PNC Bank’s incredible contribution and staff investment, materials were purchased and plans were put in motion. 

Additional partners joined with support. The Greensman provided landscaping services, while Kansas City Community Gardens offered discounted seeds, plants, soil, materials, and helpful instructions for raised garden beds. Home Depot, Suburban Lawn & Garden, and Soil Service Garden Center donated compost and plants to fill the garden spaces. Our little learners have been eager and active participants in planting and caring for the gardens.  


“My plant is going to grow this tall!” said Devin, pre-k student and gardening novice, as he raised both arms over his head and balanced on tippy toes. “It was my first time planting, and I can’t wait ‘til the vegetables get BIG and strong like me!”

UICS is proud to plant new experiences and cultivate engagement. Nanell shared, “I hope to nurture a love of nature and the human connection to sustain plant life. The gardens and planters will provide contextual learning opportunities about healthy foods as they try out what they grow. It is a real-life experience for children to learn about the life cycle of plants and flowers.”

We are grateful to our community of supporters and teachers for adopting our mission and positively enriching our students’ learning experiences and making new opportunities possible. 

Special thanks to PNC Bank, Nature Explore, Kansas City Community Gardens, The Greensman, Home Depot, Suburban Lawn & Garden, and Soil Service Garden Center.