Project History & Description

It Takes a Village

It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, at Tillman, our village came together to think big, morally support, and financially back a very special project for our children. Project IGNITE is a PTO driven initiative that set out to change Tillman's educational resource landscape, both literally and figuratively. This project was funded through PTO fundraising efforts, in-kind donations, multiple grants, and some help from the Kirkwood School District maintenance fund (to repair field drainage issues).

Planning & Design

Approximately five years ago, Tillman Elementary educators, students and  community members undertook the challenge to “Dream BIG” and imagined numerous ways to make Tillman more sustainable and bring classroom learning outside. The PTO Sustainability Committee was formed, and hosted an all-school design charrette to develop a student-centered master plan for changes to the outdoor landscape. From those discussions, conceptual plans were drawn and the dreams were made real on paper. 

In the next several years, outdoor education areas were expanded at Tillman and classroom schedules were adjusted to block time for outdoor learning at all grade levels, including district-wide science curriculum that supported outdoor, experiential learning and open-ended instruction.

Outdoor Education Takes Shape at Tillman

Student-directed service and learning clubs formed that were focused on sustainability and outdoor resources. Our school gardens grew with support from nearly all teachers and grade levels. Chickens joined our Tillman family and other schools started to take notice--visiting and learning through Tillman's new and expanding outdoor learning spaces. 

During the 2017-2018 school year, we have taken a huge leap toward our vision of a dynamic learning landscape capable of supporting many inquisitive learners every day of the year. The pavilion went up, so we now have an all-weather gathering space. A native prairie has been seeded, which will invite the birds and butterflies and other critters that enthrall and engage our students. And natural and up-cycled play elements have been added, because to encourage play is to support the important work of childhood.


Tillman students share why they like going
"beyond the walls!"

The Importance of Outdoor Education

Learning Beyond the Walls

Substantial evidence exists to indicate that an outdoor learning environment offers learners opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills in ways that add value to their everyday experiences in the classroom.

Fostering Sustainabilty

Sustainability really is all about longevity. To be sustainable is to hold a vision for the distant future. And as adults, we should also take the long view when it comes to equipping kids to tackle the issue of sustainability. We serve children best by fostering in them a love of nature before asking them before we ask them to solve complex problems. Further, as we introduce challenges, we should start close to home with challenges that are of a scale that young children can understand and impact. 

Community Involvement

Tillman families and local community members will be invited to participate in meaningful ways in the creation, utilization, and caring of this multi-functional space.

Project Timeline


PTO begins exploring options for outdoor education. Repairing field drainage issue is identified as a priority.


Student garden club plants MO natives bed on east side of building.


Students and staff participate in "Dream Big" Challenge and begin brainstorming ideas to better utilize outdoor space.


PTO fundraising efforts begin. East side of campus is built up to include greenhouse,

raised garden beds, storage shed, and more! A "Prairie Patch" on west side of campus is installed--many students volunteered during recess to help prep this space, and 4th grade students installed the seeds.


A very dedicated group of Tillman parents secure multiple grants to assist with funding for the project. Tillman families and community members donate money, time, trades, and resources to the project.


Tillman breaks ground in the backyard! Outdoor classroom, natural/recycled play area, native gardens, rocked dry creek, rain gardens, and a walking path are added. Field is graded and leveled for efficient drainage and underground pipes are fixed (via KSD Maintence fund).  Chicken coop added to the courtyard.

April 14, 2018

Tillman invites the community to celebrate the opening of the IGNITE space at our Spring Jamboree! Join us from 4:00-8:00pm for a student led tour of the new space along with live music, food, community resources and much more.