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Cochran Elementary Gets A Garden Makeover, No Water Necessary

Dianna Douglas
Isabel Zarate's 2nd grade classroom looks out over the site of the new water garden

An elementary school in Dallas is tearing up their grass courtyard, and turning it into a garden of native plant that don’t need a sprinkler system. Cochran Elementary is the first of many schools that will see new landscaping as part of a citywide effort to curb water use.

 The principal of Cochran Elementary in West Dallas, DeMarcus Goree Watkins, looks out over a sad patch of grass and mud in the middle of his school.

“Where you see orange spray paint, that’s where they’re going to dig up and put pathways," he said.

The grasses, trees, flowers, and all the materials for paths will be drought tolerant or native to Texas—rosemary and monkey grass, Texas sage and evening primrose. 

Construction on the garden stopped last week for state-wide STAAR testing—they didn’t want to disturb the students in the classrooms with windows facing this courtyard. Now Goree is rearing to see his garden come together.

“It is going to be awesome, and this school was built in 1963 and has been a blank canvas. This is part of the legacy I want to leave as principal,” he said.

The city of Dallas won this year’s national water conservation challenge from the Wyland Foundation, an environmental group. Part of the win: a makeover to a patch of land in the city. The foundation gave Cochran Elementary $24,500 for a garden that should never need to be watered.

Early Lessons in Conservation

Inside Isabel Zarate’s second grade classroom, students have been talking about the water cycle for months.

“Who needs water?” she asked the students.

“All of us!” they shouted.

These kids drew designs for their garden, and voted on what plants, grasses and trees they wanted to see when they look out their classroom windows.

Zarate’s class will be ready to use the courtyard when it’s done next month. “They’ve always wanted to go eat lunch out there, so knowing that there’s going to be tables and other things in the courtyard is very exciting,” she said.

These kids have also gotten serious about water conservation.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings came to Cochran Elementary for the garden’s groundbreaking earlier this month, right as summer lawn watering restrictions went into effect for homeowners across Dallas.

”Please help us out,” he said to the kids. “Be nags to your parents: ‘we don’t need that water, shut off that water.’”

Rawlings said that saving water isn’t something that big government forces people to do. In Dallas, he hopes that conservation can be led by some pint-sized foot soldiers.