Attalla Elementary builds outdoor classroom

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By Chris McCarthy/Editor

With the combined effort of students, teacher, parents and community volunteers, a portion of Attalla Elementary underwent an extreme makeover of sorts this week.

In the space of six and a half hours on Wednesday, the space behind the school’s kindergarten building was transformed into an outdoor classroom and wildlife habitat. 

The new grounds feature a songbird sanctuary, butterfly garden, sensory garden, turtle habitat, frog and toad habitat, raised bed gardens for vegetables and herbs, an ampitheater seating area, weather station and nature trail.

Beginning at 8 a.m., Attalla Elementary students rotated in shifts building and installing the above structures. Among the labor the students performed was digging holes, leveling ground, carrying buckets of gravel and water and planting flowers and plants.

According to AES teachers Carolyn Stovall and Carol Fulgham, the school is enrolled in the Alabama Outdoor Classroom (AOC) Program, a partnership between the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF), Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Alabama Cooperative Extension System that provides technical assistance for schools who wish to develop sustainable outdoor classroom sites that can be utilized as effective teaching tools.  

Stovall pointed out that before it was consolidated with Curtiston Elementary two years ago, Stowers Hill Elementary built a similar outdoor classroom.

“We have a schedule that allows all 530 kids a chance to come out for at least 30 minutes,” she said. “The ultimate thing is that this is for the kids, and for me that what’s makes all the hard work worthwhile.” 

In addition to the younger set, several students from Etowah High and Middle schools were on hand performing the heavier digging and lifting. 

“The good thing about it is that a lot of these kids don’t ever go outside and get dirty,” said Stovall. “All the kids seem really excited about it, and it’s really brought everybody in the community together.

Providing guidance were several members of the Etowah County Master Gardeners Association, as well as representatives from the 4-H Extension Office and the Alabama Math and Science Initiative Program. 

“I told then that we’d be glad to help when I found out about this,” said Master Gardeners president Don Gardner. “It’s surprising to me how it’s all coming together so quickly. Every kid love to play in the mud, they’re all having fun.”

AOC State Coordinator April Waltz said that over 250 schools across Alabama currently are developing and using outdoor classroom sites through the program. 

“Our goal is to provide hands-on, outdoor learning opportunities in a fun and exciting environment,” said Waltz, who works out of Huntsville with schools in north Alabama. “It’s a lot of fun and the kids really love it. It’s always amazing to find that the children who are “problem” children indoors and are maybe restless and bored are the top students when you get them outside doing hands-on activities. It’s just a different learning environment.” 

Local sponsors included Alabama Tea-chers Credit Union, Americool Heating & Air Conditioning, the Alabama Math and Science Initiative Program, The Attalla Champs 21st Century Program, Attalla Elementary PTO, Alabama Wildlife Federation, Bolin Cabinets, Brother’s Wholesale Appliances, Daniel Landscaping and Backhoe, Dennis Quarles, Etowah Builders Supply, Etowah County Master Gardeners Association, Etowah County 4-H Extension Office, Ferguson’s Florist, Helena Rena Beauty Shop, Holland Brothers Motors, Hubbard’s Greenhouse, Ivalee Storage (Gary Huff), La Bella Vita Clothing and Accessories, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Lula Andrews Brown, Head Start, Oak Landing Retirement Co-mmunity, Professional Association of Attalla Educators, Ragland Screen Printing, State Rep. Craig Ford, Rosson Poultry Farm, Sunshine Creek Farm Rabbitry, Larry Means and Vulcan Materials. 

“So many people have donated money and supplies for this [project], so it’s really been a blessing,” said Stovall. “We couldn’t have done this without them.”

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