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Holland Gets New Outdoor Classroom

Students at Holland Elementary in Springfield will soon have a place to go in their own backyard to learn about science hands-on. KSMU's Michele Skalicky has more.

Kim Taylor, a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Holland Elementary looks forward to the day when she can take her students outside, let them pick flowers they've planted and dissect them to study the various parts of a plant.

She won't have to wait too much longer. The Greater Ozarks Audubon Society has been working on an outdoor classroom in an area in the center of the school, surrounded by hallways with several classrooms leading off of them.

The roughly 40 foot by 135 foot outdoor space will contain a variety of natural areas for students to learn.

The project is being funded thru a grant from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. Volunteers have worked thru the winter getting the space ready for learning.

"Over here where Sue's working, that's going to be a wetland. We're going to fill it with compost and peat, stuff like that, so that when the water comes out of that downspout there, it'll come right into this thing. And if we can make it about that deep, why it should hold water down in there someplace. And, when we get that changed and we've got that water down below there and it stays wet like that, I think we can have a different type of ecosystem over there where we can actually grow some wetland plants and stuff like that. And, who knows? Maybe there will be a toad in there or something like that that they can study."

Like a proud dad, Kay Johnson, with the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society, points out various parts of the outdoor classroom. Last spring, he approached teachers at the school about putting in a butterfly garden. They were excited about the idea, but after more discussion, Audubon proposed expanding it into an outdoor classroom. Teachers gave their input and Johnson came up with a design for the space.

He says there will be plenty of opportunities for learning.

"The teachers are excited because they can watch the kids plant something and see it grow, and maybe they can eat it, like maybe they put lettuce in early. Maybe they can eat it, take it to the kitchen and get it washed and eat it or something, and it'll give the kids a new experience. They haven't seen that stuff before."

There will be places for students to plant vegetables. Compost bins will allow kids to recycle the waste from their lunches, and Johnson hopes the space will eventually contain recycling bins for things like plastics and aluminum.

Holland teacher Kim Taylor is excited about having an area that will allow students to have more hands-on learning experiences.

"These four smaller beds that you see over here for fifth grade, where we do a large plant unit, and we actually do experiments in different soils. And so we'll have clay all the way down to sand, and we'll be able to actually experiment outside instead of little cups on the windowsill inside. So, it'll be more real."

With so many different areas in the outdoor classroom, Taylor expects there to be a wide variety of learning opportunities for students.

"The students will be able to observe birds, and we'll have plants out here for a butterfly garden, so we're hoping that students would be able to observe the cycle of butterflies. We also wanted to have a dig out here where some of the lower grades would be able to do an archaeological dig and find fossils and really be able to experience fossils in the real world and how they're looked at and used."

Tree stumps will provide places for students to sit while their teachers read them stories or talk with them about various subject matters.

While it's been a lot of hard work so far, Johnson isn't complaining. And he has had no shortage of volunteers from Audubon to help him who have had lots of fun creating the outdoor space.

Students at Holland have helped clear out debris, and Taylor says they'll plan a day soon where parents, students and teachers can come together to help with planting.

While Johnson has been grateful for the Audubon volunteers who've done much of the work so far, he looks forward to getting the neighborhood involved.

"I want the teachers and the kids and the people that go to church around here and the parents, I want all these people to get involved in it. And, when they get involved in it, then they'll create some ownership in the thing, and it'll be taken care of a lot better."

Johnson says they're planting mostly native MO plants, but they'll put in some annuals, too, for color while the native plants become established. He says after about two years, the outdoor classroom at Holland should be showing its full beauty.

For KSMU News, I'm Michele Skalicky.