Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

May 8, 2014

A natural learning environment

Outdoor classroom complete at West Carter Middle

OLIVE HILL — Among the highlights of their sixth-grade year for three members of West Carter Middle School’s science club were building a greenhouse out of pop bottles and constructing a wetlands behind the school.

The two projects were part of the school’s outdoor classroom, and on Thursday the three, who have been stalwart members of the club all through their three years at West Carter, got to show off the classroom to some important state officials.

Representatives of the Kentucky state park system, Eastern Kentucky Pride and the Kentucky Environmental Education Council visited West Carter to mark the completion of the facility and applaud the school’s outdoor education developments. Eighth-graders Triston Ginter, Evan Burton and Ryan James, along with the rest of the science club, were there to show them both facilities.

“Building the greenhouse taught me the importance of the environment,” Ginter said during a ceremony that included the entire school. “I learned how important it is that everything works together,” he said later.

The outdoor classroom was made possible largely through grants from Eastern Kentucky PRIDE, the state environmental protection initiative launched in 1997.

During the ceremony officials toured the recently completed facility. Earlier this year an open pavilion with picnic benches was erected beside the wetlands area, completing the development.

An Eastern Kentucky PRIDE grant — one of two the school received this year — paid for the pavilion. The picnic benches were from Grayson Lake State Resort Park and were donated by the park service.

The two-year project was started by the science club but over time was an effort of the whole school, science teacher Beverly McDavid said.

Environmental education is one of Eastern Kentucky Pride’s chief goals, said field representative Mark Davis. “It’s a seed we are sowing for the future. Through the education process we are transforming the region, our habits and our routines,” he said.

Outdoor classrooms have a clear educational purpose, according to Elizabeth Schmitz, executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Education Council.

Among research findings are increases in test scores, better attendance and more engaged students when the environment is a part of learning, she said. Students also improve in problem solving, critical thinking and creative thinking, she said.

The outdoor classroom is meant to be a facility that will last and benefit students for years, McDavid said.

The greenhouse also is a long-term project that, in addition to serving as a teaching tool, is used to grow vegetables for the school cafeteria and flowers the club can sell for Mothers Day, she said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.

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