New Paltz High School Courtyard Gardens

Submitted by Megan Coder.

In 2007, New Paltz High School environmental studies teacher, Cathy Law, had a vision to transform an unused space in the center of the school's property into a garden for teaching, learning, enjoyment, exercise, and other creative acitivities. Through her drive, the Courtyard Gardens has blossomed into fifteen themed gardens including a medicinal garden, bird garden, butterfly garden, scented garden, zen garden, and a silver and gray garden. The gardens provide many wonderful learning opportunities for students from botany to rock identification to pollination, and Law has incorporated the gardens into the curriculum of her AP environmental science, earth science, and field biology courses. Her ultimate goals are to provide rich experiences for her students and to “get kids outside loving nature and learning from nature.” 

Each spring term, Law's AP environmental science students do fieldwork in the gardens cultivating, planting, weeding, designing landscapes, and even arranging flowers. Biology students use this “green” lab to study ecology, and identify birds and insects. Law also oversees the Environmental Club, the “Keepers of the Courtyard,” and other volunteers who help maintain the gardens throughout the year. Other departments at New Paltz High School have also integrated the gardens into their curriculums; the family and consumer science courses use herbs from the culinary garden to create recipes and healthy snacks, and art students have used chalk to create art in the gardens and shale to construct stone walls and sculptures. 

The Courtyard Gardens is supported through donations, and Law has raised thousands of dollars to keep it going. She is happy to be a resource for other teachers who are interested in starting gardens at their schools. For more information, please visit Law’s website or contact her at

First Lady, Michelle Obama, recently recognized the Courtyard Gardens in a letter commending Law for all the work she had done to promote outdoor learning and healthy living.

It is most gratifying to Law when students connect the work that they are doing in the gardens to the larger sustainable picture. Many of Law’s students have been inspired by her and what they have learned in her courses, and have gone on to environmental science careers.


New Paltz Courtyard Gardens Mission Statement:

To create an outdoor learning center dedicated to understanding and improving the environment.

To enable learning that is problem based and interdisciplinary.

To promote environmental stewardship.

To help build a positive school community.

To teach students valuable horticultural skills.

Promote food literacy and healthy eating habits. 


Photos courtesy of Cathy Law.



The Sustainability Spotlight is a weekly series that highlights community-driven, environmentally sound, and economically responsible programs and projects in libraries and other organizations. You can find more projects in the Sustainability Spotlight Archive or visit NYLA's Sustainability Initiative to learn more about how you can get started with sustainability in your library.