Signature Programs

Outdoor Learning Lab

Educating the whole child goes beyond books at Norfolk Collegiate. We work hard to create spaces, experiences and a curriculum that challenge our students to think beyond themselves, while also organically creating life skills to serve them as they journey to the middle and upper school and then to college and beyond.

The Outdoor Learning Lab at our lower school is not only a magical, unique space; it’s also another innovative way in which we engage our students and enhance learning across the curriculum. The student-driven, farm-to-table project was made possible due to a generous donation from parents Taylor ’00 and Emily Franklin.

Once the interior courtyard for the lower school, the space was converted in 2016 into a living outdoor lab with four raised vegetable beds, a flower garden, a greenhouse and a chicken coop with five Buff Orpington hens. In 2018, an educational koi pond was added to the space thanks to the generosity of parents Brian and Amy Clements.

Faculty extend classroom lessons outdoors and bring their subject matter to life by providing students with the opportunity to study in a non-traditional environment and to participate in meaningful experiences while planting, maintaining and harvesting the crops.

“There is no better learning than organic learning that allows students to spark their natural curiosity and then immediately learn from it,” said Science Teacher Melissa Economou. “As educators, we are fostering that curiosity. I feel very fortunate and blessed to be given this amazing outdoor area for scientific discovery alongside all of my favorite young scientists.”

About the Outdoor Learning Lab

The space was transformed over a few months in the spring of 2016. Lower School Science Teacher Melissa Economou led the charge and brainstormed, planned and measured with students to bring the project to fruition. Thanks to the collaborative efforts and the muscle of dedicated faculty and staff and volunteers, a concept was developed for the innovative outdoor space.

“Students were presented with the idea of doing something with the courtyard space that would allow all students the ability to learn and participate,” said Economou. “They generated multiple ideas and then researched the viability and costs associated with each.”

List of 4 items.

  • The Oak Roost

    The Oak Roost is home to the school’s five Buff Orpington hens. Named by the students, the hens reside in a sandy-floored, fenced-in area of approximately 380 square feet and a 12’x4’ coop. Under faculty supervision, students are responsible for feeding, gathering eggs and maintaining the hens.

    To demonstrate the life cycle of our hens, Economou and her students hatched several chicks, who lived in the school's science room until the space was unveiled on May 12, 2016, and they were strong enough to live in the outdoor roost. Each year the school partners with a local farm to hatch several chicks to demonstrate the life cycle for students.

    “Given proper care and diet, the hens should each produce one egg about every 26 hours,” said Economou.

    The hens produce hundreds of eggs each year, which are used in the school’s dining hall, raffled off to students once a month and donated to the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.
  • The Vegetable Gardens

    The lab boasts four 4’ x 8’ raised vegetable beds in which students grow herbs and vegetables for use in the school’s dining hall and for the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.

    Students utilize the square-foot gardening method, which divides the bed into square feet, each foot being used for growing a different herb or vegetable. For example, one square foot would produce 16 carrots, or 9 bush beans, or four heads of lettuce or one pepper plant. Students have 128 squares to plan, seed, grow and harvest.

    “Each bed is fully irrigated with a drip irrigation system,” said Economou. “This also allows for year-round crop rotation and cultivation.”

    No pesticides or fertilizers are used in the lab.
  • The Greenhouse

    The greenhouse provides an opportunity to have living plants throughout the year and to extend the growing season. It’s lined with a pea rock floor for drainage and provides a place for students to propagate seeds that are mature enough to plant in spring.

    “The students plan to utilize vertical gardening and hope to eventually incorporate aquaponics into the greenhouse,” said Economou.

    Students also use this area to conduct various science experiments.
  • The Koi Pond

    The newest addition to the outdoor space is the koi pond, which was unveiled in September 2018 thanks to the support of Brian and Amy Clements. The pond is 3’ x 12’, utilizes a natural bog filtration system and is home to koi, fancy-tailed goldfish and a turtle.

    “The pond allows students to see and get their hands on a real aquaponics system,” said Economou. “Students are able to watch the fish in their natural habitat and see the water filter through the natural bog filter above. This filter cleans the water by way of rocks and plant roots, which absorb nutrients from the waste created by the fish. Then, the clean, reoxygenated water is sent back to the fish to help them prosper.”
For more information on the outdoor learning lab, please contact Mrs. Economou at or click here for a list of frequently asked questions.

Meet Our Hens

Norfolk Collegiate’s Outdoor Learning Lab is also home to our five resident Buff Orpington hens. The hens were named by the students after historical women and include:
  • Amelia | Named after aviator Amelia Earhart
  • Harriett | Named after abolitionist Harriett Tubman
  • Helen | Named after author and activist Helen Keller
  • Martha | Named after former first lady Martha Washington
  • Rosa | Named after activist Rosa Parks
The hens reside at the school year-round and are cared for by our lower school science teacher Melissa Economou and our students. The eggs produced by the hens are used in the school’s dining hall, raffled off to students and donated to the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.

Middle/Upper School Campus

Lower School Campus