Learning in the sunshine

Published 12:15 am Saturday, April 25, 2009

As the spring semester winds down, students become restless. They get that itch to be outside, breathing in fresh air and feeling the sunshine beating down on their faces. For many teachers, a chalkboard just will not cut it. So enrichment teacher Louise Wood decided to offer an alternative to rows of desks and stacks of glossy textbooks.

“This time of year, to change the learning environment is going to make all the difference in the world,” Wood said. “We have wanted something that would bring us outside. This is going to open up big new worlds for us.”

Thanks in part to the hard work of a local volunteer and a grant from International Paper, students from across the city can learn in a unique environment at Meadowview Elementary School. At the edge of the school grounds, a small semi-circle of benches offers students the chance to escape the hum of fluorescent light bulbs.

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Ben Morgan, a Selma resident who lives near the school, spent a few early mornings assembling the benches, which can be converted into picnic tables by only removing and replacing two bolts. While it has been quite a while since the 72-year-old was a student, he said he remembers the torture of staring out that classroom window on a pretty spring day like Thursday.

“Now, you can come out here and at least see a bird fly by,” Morgan said.

Principal Jeanne Brust agreed that the outdoor classroom offers a nice break for the students.

“It’s pleasant outside this time of the year,” Brust said. “They love it.”

It is not just the sunshine or fresh air either. The students scan the nearby trees for signs of wildlife.

“I’m a big animal fan,” Meadowview fifth-grade student Tyler Hughes said. “You get to see rabbits and squirrels out here.”

Meadowview fourth-grade student Modesty Obasohan said you could not beat learning outdoors.

“I think it’s good because you get to observe nature while you’re learning,” she said. “Since the weather is getting better it’s great not to be inside all the time.”

It is not so bad for the teacher either. Wood said the outdoor classroom makes it easier to do more hands-on projects such as painting and science experiments.

“This is where we could make a mess,” she said.

The treated lumber benches can be left outside and handle some wear and tear from students. Long after Wood stops teaching, she said students would be able to use the classroom.

“We’re going to use this for years to come,” she said.