A collaborative effort at Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Middletown has resulted in an outdoor classroom aimed at strengthening student achievement and hands-on STEM education.
The school’s nature lab was unveiled to the public on Earth Day, April 21, a fitting occasion to promote care for the environment and celebrate the gifts God has given through nature.
The outdoor classroom is replete with bird and butterfly houses, a bat box and weather instruments, as well as woodland, vegetable and wildflower gardens. Supplied with binoculars, gauges, compasses and chalkboards, students will be able to study habitats, weather and pollination through the program’s special curriculum.
“There are many benefits to an outdoor classroom. Research has shown that students are happier and learn better when they spend time outdoors,” principal Rebecca Harvey said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “When environmental education is integrated into the curriculum, student achievement increases in core academic areas including science, math and reading.”
“Additionally, research indicates schools that teach the core subjects using the environment as an integrating context increase student engagement and enthusiasm for learning; and result in greater student pride and ownership in accomplishments,” she said.
The hands-on nature lab was envisioned by Harvey, in partnership with landscape designer Kevin Boustead of Stauffers of Kissel Hill.
The outdoor classroom shifts education from a primarily indoor, teacher-initiated model to one that encourages outdoor, child-initiated learning. Students will be able to investigate and respond to real-life, engaging challenges during project-based lessons.
“Children will be able to engage in all sorts of STEM activities, like the study of pollination in the wildflower garden, insect life cycles in the woodland garden, and even chiropterology – the study of bats – the study of weather patterns using the various instruments and gauges. Students will be able to grow and taste herbs and vegetables, all in an effort to encourage healthy living,” Harvey said.
The project was a collaborative effort of parishioners and community partners, in addition to the conceptualization provided by Stauffers of Kissel Hill. These included the Whole Kids Foundation, which approved the grant to purchase the materials; the Knights of Columbus, for their volunteer efforts and financial support; and Best Line Equipment, Criss Designs and Tyson Fence for their donation of labor.
Eagle Scout Michael Astflak, Jr., a graduate of Seven Sorrows, worked with eighth-grader Avery Askins to construct a patio, slate walkways, and raised beds. Handmade wooden tables and benches were crafted by the Sides family, and the Desjardins family enabled the purchase of the butterfly, bat and bird houses. With additional financial support of parishioners of Seven Sorrows, the school was able to furnish the nature lab with binoculars, chalkboards, compasses, weather instruments and watering cans.
“The project we are celebrating today has required leadership, foresight, careful planning, and persistence,” Harvey said, prior to the blessing of the nature lab by Father Ted Keating, pastor. “We are so proud of this effort [which] celebrates Catholic education in action and at its best.”
Learn more about Seven Sorrows School at www.sevensorrowsschool.com.
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness