By Sarrah Peters
Ivalee Elementary students on Friday, May 1 spent the day outside working on building a garden for the school’s new outdoor classroom. Work on the outdoor classroom began in 2013. Two years later, the project is close to finished.
During the Outdoor Classroom Day, parent volunteers, teachers, students and Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Outdoor Classroom consultants worked together to build beds, lay mulch and plant seeds, plants and trees. Students from kindergarden through sixth grade took shifts working outdoors. In total, about 240 kids assisted with the project. The project was started by the school’s counselor, Heather Ford.
Ivalee Elementary’s outdoor classroom was brought to life through the Alabama Outdoor Classroom (AOC) Program. The Alabama Power Foundation Students-to-Stewards Grant provided the funds and support, along with the Alabama Wildlife Federation and parent and local business donations.
The outdoor classroom will serve as a “living laboratory” for students with hands-on activities to supplement traditional classroom lessons.
The classroom has many different sections with different purposes. The songbird sanctuary is designed to attract birds for the students to observe. Then the students can report the observations they make on websites like Journey North and Cornell University’s eBird site. By doing this students can track the migrations of birds in the area.
There is also a frog bog and lizard sanctuary to attract the amphibians and reptiles to the outdoor classroom for observations and research. The lizard sanctuary provides a place for students to learn more about the school’s mascot, as Ivalee’s mascot is “The Fighting Lizard.”
In addition, there are several raised bed gardens that will be used to grow vegetables and other annual plants. Some grow specialty plants like the Sensory Garden, which is full of herbs and wind chimes to stimulate different senses, and the Butterfly Garden, designed to attract the colorful insects. Students will use the plants to learn by calculating the growth rate of the plants and by studying the different parts of the plants with real life examples.
To make the Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program possible, Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF), the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources work together to provide technical assistance to schools looking to make an outdoor classroom. Outdoor classrooms are now gaining popularity throughout Alabama, with 300 schools using the AOC program to develop outdoor classroom sites.
For more information about outdoor classrooms, visit the AWF’s website at www.alabamawildlife.org/classrooms, or contact April Lupardus Waltz, the AOC Program Coordinator, at email@example.com or 256-882-9183.