Proposing an outdoor classroom at middle school

Site plan 2017-01The Vegetable Project, which has been digging in the dirt at Myers Middle School since 2009, proposes further developing space around its gardens to create an outdoor classroom for the school. The idea is that an outdoor classroom would serve as a living science laboratory, a place where English classes might be encouraged to write and art students might be given a chance to observe. In each case, its use would be supported by research pointing to a wide range of healthy outcomes associated with time spent outdoors, in fresh air and amid nature.

The beautiful rendering here, which was created by Albany landscape designer Jason Schultz, is not so much a completed plan as a depiction of ideas that we believe could dramatically enhance the school’s learning environment and thus create enormous new teaching and learning opportunities. Though still early in the process of fleshing out an idea, in July 2017, we envision amenities such as a shaded seating area, a greenhouse, handicapped accessibility, vegetable garden beds, fruit trees, food preparation facilities, native plants and wildlife habitat.

So what exactly is an outdoor classroom? The term’s definition actually is somewhat in the eye of the beholder. The breadth of great possibilities, however, is captured in an array of web sites and publications with ideas and advice for folks like us that is drawn from the experience of earlier developers and educators. Please take a look.

Here is where we are right now: Having shown Jason Schultz’s rendering to a number of teachers, parents, building leaders, school district leader and friends in the community, we know there is interest. Having secured some beginnings of funding, from the Albany Fund for Education, the Whole Kids Foundation and the Myers PTSA, we feel positive about our prospects for raising necessary resources. Thus, we are ready to move into planning gear. And we welcome your participation in at least three different areas – site development and maintenance, nurturing teaching and learning opportunities, and funding and public relations. Please let us know at thevegetableproject@gmail if you are interested.

Among the many steps ahead are exploring myriad greenhouse design options, estimating costs, identifying potential funding and telling our story to an ever-wider swath of the community. Sustaining visibility, including endlessly seeking new audiences, is so critical to building resources to ensure that once the classroom is built it will be used.

–Bill Stoneman


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