December 13, 2011

Outdoor Classrooms 101

The vast majority of my school experience was spent within the confines of high stacked cinderblocks painted a cheery shade of uber-beige with the occasional rectangular window with bars over the glass. The principal like to refer to them as shade louvers...but us students called them bars. Don't get me wrong, it was the non-tangible things that I took in during my primary schooling that meant the most - not the structure which held me. Nonetheless I cringe every time I pass those louvers.

That being said I can't help but get a little excited when the topic of outdoor classrooms comes up among community members and my fellow AmeriCorps members. Before coming to the Knoxville area I had never heard the two words put together in such a way before. I was a bit baffled at first. Afterall, if a classroom is outdoors then how do you stick pencils in the ceiling tiles or put gum under you desk? It didn't make sense. Gum and pencil placement aside I have had ample opportunity to learn what these classrooms are all about. The more I learn, the more I wish I had them in my primary schooling.

Part of my service position as the Water Quality Assistant for Farragut is to help in the development of our own outdoor classroom. While the current site is a mostly empty field adjacent to Turkey Creek, with a bit of elbow grease and a healthy application of good ideas and community involvement it can be up and running within the next few years. As far as my part goes, just yesterday I found out I was awarded a $500 grant to allow for the planting of trees within our outdoor classroom to act as riparian stabilizers. Cool eh?

In order to get a grasp on what makes outdoor classroom so successful, Farragut's community volunteer Jessica and myself went on a tour of four Knox County OC locations led by AmeriCorps Water Quality Team Member, Kelsey.

(Photos taken by Jessica!)

Karns High - Many OCs are certified arboretums.
West High - This OC features raised gardens as well as a butterfly garden.
West High - Rainwater harvesting.
Halls High - This OC not only acts as a learning area for students but also as a attractive and very effective stormwater buffer.
Gibbs High - OCs offer students the chance to learn outside of day-to-day environments while allowing them to directly connect with the natural world around them.
Halls High - This classroom also serves as an attractive community space for local residents as well as students.
Gibbs - Shop Class students are using their carpentry skills to create a green roof on this OC storage shed.

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