Fourth-graders Ayden Forrester, 10, Lodan Alexander, 10, Thane Shepherd, 10, Cooper Shelnut, 9, Kyleigh Barksdale, 9, and Harrison Smith, 10, visit at the recent grand opening of Caledonia Elementary School's outdoor classroom. The quilt square is by Rita Williams. Ayden's parents are Jason and April Forrester. Logan's parents are Brad and Jamie Alexander. Thane is the son of Austin and Amy Shepherd. Cooper's parents are Lance and Callie Shelnut. Kyleigh's grandparents are Kevin and Tammy Forrester. Harrison's parents are Nathan and Stephanie Smith. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
Teacher Roxanne Moody helps fourth-graders Nash McCrary, 10, Cohen Clark, 10, and Aubrie Kate Forrester, 9, in the Seed Survivor mobile unit during the grand opening of Caledonia Elementary School's outdoor classroom. Nash's parents are Lu and Katie McCrary. Cohen's parents are Brad and Beth Clark. Aubrie Kate's parents are Dustin and Sarah Heberling.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
March 10, 2018 10:01:04 PM
Winter's wane has everyone eager to get outside. That includes 1,102 students at Caledonia Elementary School who recently celebrated the grand opening of an outdoor classroom on campus. It was, in reality, a reopening, made possible in large part by efforts of the school's Parent-Teacher Organization, the PTO.
"It was originally built under the direction of now-retired teacher Mrs. Sandra Murphy in the 1990s," explained PTO member Amy Sumrall who helped spearhead the reclamation and coordinated the celebration held Feb. 23.
In the past two decades, changes to campus and damage from violent weather made the original green space and nature trails unusable. But when longtime CES Principal Roger Hill visited the construction site of new school buildings last year, he recognized where the original classroom had been and saw the potential.
"I realized it was something that could be done," Hill said. He approached the PTO, which organized a team of helping hands, along with some fundraising.
"We relied very heavily on volunteers," said Sumrall. She and her husband, Brad, worked closely with Hill, fellow CES parents Lu and Katie McCrary, Brad and Beth Clark and other PTO members on the project.
Phase One, now complete, involved clearing overgrown brush, repairing and roofing the original pavilion and adding shaded seating and landscaping. Many pitched in, like McCrary West Construction and Debbie Lawrence at Bloomer's Nursery, who recommended suitable low-maintenance plantings.
Sumrall said, "All the volunteers have been absolutely phenomenal."
Students got their first close look at the new classroom at the grand opening. Everyone planted sunflower seeds, explored farm equipment and learned about crops grown in their own community. Fourth-graders were able to visit the Seed Survivor Project, an interactive mobile unit presented by Crop Production Services and Nutrien Ltd.
CES RTI (Response to Intervention) Coordinator April Forrester remarked, "The children were having such a good time. Amy did such a good job, bringing that Seed Survivor (project) with the different interactive games."
Nine-year-old Holt Winter said, "The coolest thing I did was I got to climb on the combine! I've never been on a combine before, even though my grandpa has one."
The fourth-grader, the son of Vonda and Matt Winter, also liked the Seed Survivor unit and planting sunflowers. Each day now, he checks the progress of his seedlings growing in cups at school.
"We planted two sunflowers in each cup, and mine have both succeeded," he said with pride.
His teacher, Roxanne Moody, saw her students grow increasingly invested in the outdoor classroom as it took shape.
"We've watched the whole process -- the cutting, the rocks, the painting -- and they've been very eager to get outside," Moody said. "We're really looking forward to actually having a class out there to take advantage of it all. They've made it look so nice."
Phase Two will incorporate student artwork on a picket fence to be erected, Sumrall explained. PTO members hope teachers will help identify other ways the space can evolve.
"My vision for it, at the very least, is for it to be a welcome escape from the four walls of the (indoor) classrooms," said Sumrall. "And it provides such an outlet for fun learning. They're having such a blast, and they don't even realize they're learning."
For Sandra Murphy, who established the original outdoor space more than 20 years ago, its return is particularly satisfying. She's an alumna of Caledonia schools and retired from teaching there in 2010, after 28 years.
"It is just awesome to see it opened up again," said Murphy.
Holt Winter added, "I'm really excited about getting to go out there in nature and learn at the same time, 'cause I love both, and I'd like for them to be together at one time."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.