Outdoor classroom grows student learning


Courtesy of Mariposa Arillo (Mary Lin teacher)

Mary Lin teacher Gregg Rice plants with students in the new outdoor classroom.

Green gardens, rain barrels, shaded work spaces and a weather station are the new features of the Mary Lin Elementary School classroom. Reinvigorating the long underdeveloped, underutilized natural space next to the school, the “Outdoor Classroom” aims to bring new approach to learning.
Consisting of green houses, picnic tables, water cisterns (for collecting rainwater) and tool sheds, the space strives to create a working outdoor classroom. Ideas for the revitalization of this area circulated for many years, but the initiative to begin construction accompanied the renovation of the school in 2013.
“Our team wanted to create [something] where cross-curricular, teachable moments happen because we believe in nurturing the whole child,” said Julie Roseman, the Mary Lin Education Foundation’s liaison. “We wanted to make learning accessible to all students inside and outside the classroom.”
The Outdoor Classroom had its official ribbon cutting ceremony on September 15th.
“The actual opening itself was amazing, it brought a lot of publicity, we were able to get some board members to come, our superintendent came, our associate superintendent came, and so there is a lot of enthusiasm around it,” said Mary Lin’s principal, Sharyn Briscoe. “Hopefully it will become a part of normal classroom time for the students.”
The classroom aims to teach the curriculum while integrating it with an outdoor experience. Science, math, art, and other classes will have access to a space that provides an educational relationship with nature.
“Spanish class can come out to play fun outdoor games and learn new vocabulary words,” Roseman said. “Science lessons allow us to ask questions of how we can change or better the environment for future generations.”
In addition to the physical benefits of the access to educational tools, the Outdoor Classroom also emphasizes its effects on performance. Studies from the Children and Nature Network (C&NN) and the American Institutes of Research (AIR) show that students’ exposure to the outdoors increases their ability to focus, aids the concentration of children with ADHD, and improves their conflict resolution and cooperation skills.
Even amidst the enthusiasm for the classroom’s opening, further additions are coming to the outdoor space.
“We are getting a solar panel [possibly to attach to a pump for an irrigation system],” said Gregg Rice, an instructor at Mary Lin. “We [want to] show the kids about how sustainable energy can be used on a small, local level like this.”
The classroom is used and maintained by the Mary Lin staff, but former and current Mary Lin parents also support the Outdoor Classroom through raising funds, holding board positions, and volunteering.
“As a parent I really hope that my kids really have a deeper appreciation for nature, that they are able to see the concepts they are learning and really have a direct correlation to the real world.” said Andy Woodworth, a Mary Lin parent and Garden Club chair member. “What I hope is that it becomes really a true outdoor classroom so that students can be breathing fresh air and be sitting under trees and in shade while they are learning,”
The classroom aims to become an integrated part of teaching at Mary Lin.
“We also want to get more teachers feeling competent to come out here on their own. ..so that it’s more of a whole school effort to bring all of the classes outside.” Rice said.
Parents, students, and teachers alike have high hopes for the outdoor space.
“[I would love to see people] using it as actually one of the classrooms in our school to go to just as we would use the gym or the art room or the auditorium, for us to [really] start using that space.” Briscoe said. “I am most excited to see the kids take ownership of it.”

Healthy Living
Tyler Jones
Edible plants educate students about nutrition and healthy eating, one of the many aims of the new outdoor space.