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School adds to outdoor classroom
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Students enjoy time outside in the just-opened STEM Outdoor Classroom at Lewis Frasier Middle School on Thursday. A sign to the left shows two of the projects business partners, Ace Hardware and Lowes. In the foreground is one of the flower gardens students planted and mulched. - photo by Photo by Jason Wermers

Classes might have just ended Friday at Lewis Frasier Middle School, but the students left something to grow on for the next school year.

They transformed what had been a nondescript — “boring” was a popular word — courtyard into the STEM Outdoor Classroom.

“Basically, it was a real mess,” said eighth-grader Nathan Spradley, the building supervisor of the classroom.

“Excuse my terminology, but as kids nowadays would say — that I’ve learned while working with them — it was wretched,” said eighth-grader Heather Beers, the lead planner and designer.

Now, walking into the courtyard from off the 400 hallway, one is greeted by a flower bed, benches that can double as picnic tables, a thermometer, a small pond stocked with fish and algae, the framework of what will become a greenhouse and a solar-powered water fountain.

Sixth-grader Dalen Hass was involved in the future greenhouse, which right now is a wooden framework, and plans to stay involved in its construction when school resumes in August.

“We’re going to get these bamboo sticks, and we’re going to stick those plastic bottles over there on the sticks,” Hass said, pointing to a pile of bamboo sticks on the ground, then motioning to several large bags filled with plastic bottles.

Those bottles, he explained, will act as the greenhouse roof to help plants inside grow.

The idea came about this past winter, when Keith Peterman, who teaches sixth-grade Earth science, heard about it while attending an education conference in Macon.

“It was a lot of work. We couldn’t have done it if it wasn’t a group project,” Peterman said. “We had to basically put it together after the state tests.”

Misty Eastlake, who teaches gifted science, mentioned several people and companies who donated materials. A couple of parents donated wood, which was used for the benches that double as tables and the greenhouse frame. Lowe’s and Ace Hardware donated pallets, which will be used to build a storage facility next year.

And the outdoor classroom has many learning opportunities.

“We are working on different types of alternative-energy sources, like we have a solar fountain up front,” Eastlake said. “We’re also going to have a weather station for the sixth-graders to be able to record the weather and the rain and wind and all that kind of stuff. The kids also had to research different types of plants and animals, what they can put in the pond that will live.”

For next year, she added, students will work on an aquaponic pond for the greenhouse.

Natasha Medford, who teaches seventh-grade life science, credited the students with taking initiative and making sure the classroom succeeded.

“They came up with the layout, they came out here to do the measuring,” she said. “They’re more excited about tearing things down and putting them back together. They want to come outside every day so that they can be involved because this is their project.”

Several students agreed, saying they enjoyed the outdoor classroom. It was a welcome change, they said, from sitting in their desks and taking notes.

“It was fun, and it was a good way to learn to do things,” sixth-grader Cassidy O’Neal said. “And it was fun, but it was hot.”
While the leaders, Beers and Spradley, will move on to Bradwell Institute in August, they look forward to seeing how the outdoor classroom develops.

“We’re actually doing extensive research with our sponsors from Georgia Southern to really build on it,” Beers said. “And in a few years, give or take, it is really going to be something remarkable. And I think a lot of schools could get somewhat of a value from having something like this for the kids to learn.”

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