PECHS’s Outdoor Classroom Takes Learning Outside

Janet Green believes in thinking “outside the box.” Last year the Prince Edward County teacher went a step farther and proposed an idea to take learning outside the classroom. The result was an Outdoor Classroom and nature trail that opened earlier this year.

Green, a health and physical education teacher at Prince Edward County High School, has a master’s degree in outdoor recreation.

“I began to notice that the students in my classes just didn’t know anything about being in the woods,” Green said. “There was this wooded area behind the school with some old benches. I thought — let’s make it into a real classroom, so that’s what we did.”

In 2016 Green took her idea to the Prince Edward Public Schools Endowment Foundation (PEPSE).

“I got a grant from PEPSE, so it didn’t cost the school anything,” she said. “That was a big selling point.”

A sense of adventure clearly beckons as you leave the bricks and concrete and step along a path under towering oaks into this verdant oasis behind the high school. That was exactly what Green had in mind when she made her proposal for the project.

The first step was to clear trails through a wooded area that included both hardwood and pine trees.

“The students learn to be sensitive to each other and
appreciate each others’ gifts. It’s really amazing how
they can learn to work together.”
Janet Green

“We had a lot of community involvement in building the trails,” Green noted. “Students from Longwood and Hampden-Sydney and Miss Camden’s PECHS horticultural class helped clear the trails. In total, about 100 students helped.”

Fuqua School student Isaac Drummond, assisted by mentor Dennis Creran, built the circular benches for the outdoor classroom.

“Building the benches was Isaac’s Eagle Scout project,” Green added. “When they were finished, the tennis and football teams went over and picked them up and brought them here.”

The completed project, which officially opened in May, includes the outdoor classroom, a challenge course, and a hiking and biking trail. While the course was created to bring students outdoors, it’s not just designed for physical education activities.

“It’s interdisciplinary education, and it’s for kindergarten through grade 12,” Green said. “Last year a kindergarten class came out here to read. Another group had a check-off list to find an oak leaf or something that’s moving. The kindergarten class was hiking through the woods and really looking at everything.”

Students in science, history and Spanish classes have also visited the Outdoor Classroom.

“The history class might talk about a Civil War battle, the science class could look at the differences between hardwood and pine woods and the Spanish class could discuss what they see in Spanish,” Green added. “It will be up to the teachers to plan what they do here.”

A resource book is currently being compiled, and suggestions from the community are welcome.

“My PE classes love the team building course,” Green said. “The students learn to be sensitive to each other and appreciate each others’ gifts. It’s really amazing how they can learn to work together.”

While teachers utilize the Outdoor Classroom differently, they all share a common goal: hands-on learning.

“In the Outdoor Classroom the students can experience learning instead of reading about it in a book,” Green said.

Future plans include a nature trail and a butterfly garden near the entrance to the elementary school.

“The Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation District has a grant to do the butterfly garden for us,” Green added.

“We’re also planning an orienteering course that includes using maps and compasses, biking, hiking, camping, fire building and team building,” Green said.

The Outdoor Classroom is already bringing students outdoors to engage in new learning experiences.

“It’s a way to get students outside to learn about the outdoors,” Green concluded. “It expands their horizons — and the possibilities are endless.”

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