A Walk Through The Woods

Over the last few months the students and staff at the Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain have been exploring, learning from and celebrating the success of their therapeutic walking path. The project took less than a year to execute but was the vision of special education teacher, Marty Mitchell for close to two decades.

Students now have wonderful opportunities to read, write and learn in nature.

The Manning is unique compared to other schools in Boston because of the natural features that exist right on their schooolyard – woodlands, streams, rock piles, etc.  The Manning community wanted to highlight the existing features of the site that students loved exploring but weren’t very safe to access. Through iterations of design charettes and planning meetings the school decided to focus the budget on building a meandering walking path through the woods behind the school with various sensory and educational features, especially important for the school’s large population of  students with social and emotional trauma.  The Boston Schoolyard Initiative provided technical assistance to the school to help envision and manage the project and many volunteer groups, funders and partners helped execute the project.


Today the Manning walk through the woods is a natural outdoor classrooms along a pathway where students can learn in a soothing environment.  Marty Mitchell explains, “The Walk through the Woods is especially helpful for our students with behavioral challenges and emotional impairments who, with an adult, use this natural space to reduce their anxiety. It helps them make responsible decisions.” This project aligns with the school culture that is adamant about incorporating social-emotional curriculum in the classroom. “We believe that social-emotional classes are not just beneficial to students with impairments, but to all students.”

Volunteers from Bain Capital brave the weather to help build the Manning walking path.

The project was managed from the beginning to end by Boston Schoolyard Initiative consultant, Ross Miller. The budget was limited for the walking path so the school leveraged additional technical support from Wentworth University students, hundreds of volunteers from Boston Cares and grant funds from the Whole Foods Foundation to buy cedar garden beds so that students could also explore the fun of urban gardening.

Click here to see the Making the Grade featured story that Matt Noyes at NECN did about the Manning project.