"At this moment, we are in a pandemic. Whatever we can do to bring happiness and fresh air to our kids during this time, I think the end result is going to be greater.”
A decade ago, several teachers at Blue Ridge School came together to build a garden on the school's property. As they laid foundations for garden beds, they planted and nurtured a multitude of both flowers and vegetables for some time. However, after common staffing changes were made throughout the years that followed, the garden became quite overlooked and overgrown.
During this past summer, in the midst of quarantine and chaos, an exciting idea was brought to the attention of and proposed to Christine Long, principal of Blue Ridge School.
Courtney Taylor, media specialist at Blue Ridge, came to Long to discuss the idea she and a few of her colleagues had about improving the school's outdated garden. In only her second year as principal at Blue Ridge, Long was agreeably eager to begin this project of improving her school. She gave the proposal the go-ahead.
As improvements were made and progress took shape in the garden, volunteers started doing some more brainstorming. Space was more than plentiful in this sizable garden, so the thought of building and creating an outdoor classroom grew more of a liking the further it was discussed.
Thoughts turned into plans, which quickly turned into action as the maintenance crews that were asked to help out with the project arrived within a week of inquiry to install a white board set for teachers to use in the classroom. Following suit, Taylor, along with Sylvia Smith, Blue Ridge's media paraprofessional, and Pam Williams, a gifted resource teacher at the school, properly cleaned the entire space getting it ready for utilization.
"Before we knew it, everything was moving so quickly," Long said of how fast the project took off.
This outdoor learning space comes at maybe just the right time as students are frequently wearing masks and facial coverings.
"When kids get to go outside and learn while getting to breathe fresh air without being worried about their masks, as they are socially distanced, the learning benefits are so much greater," Long said.
The outdoor classroom itself is situated in an enjoyable and clever manner. Underneath an awning that adequately covers the classroom from any harsh or inclement weather sits smaller tree stumps sanded and shaped into seats specifically made for elementary-aged students. A white board holds precedence over the smaller, spaced out stumps at the head of the newly constructed outdoor learning space.
"We envision classes using the outdoor classroom and garden, but also STEM and media conducting classes centered around the garden," Taylor said.
The garden surrounding the outdoor classroom is currently experiencing a much needed makeover as harvests and produce have been planted throughout. There is a scheduled "work day" where the staff at Blue Ridge and the members of Rock Bridge Church are able to come and volunteer in the garden in a socially distant setup.
Blue Ridge School's vision for the finished garden is to be able to give back to the school's community in whatever aspect possible.
"If we grow tomatoes, we hope that our cafeteria can use those tomatoes in preparing lunches," Long said. "We might even one day have our students set up a vegetable stand to distribute produce out to our neighbors in the community."
While excited about the opportunities the garden will create for the school and the students, Long and the staff at Blue Ridge are ecstatic about the possibilities associated with their innovative outdoor classroom.
"Going outside and developing an interest in science and math through connecting with nature will greatly benefit our students," Long said.
The people that made the outdoor classroom a reality at Blue Ridge continue to dream big as they envision multiple outdoor classrooms scattered throughout their flourishing garden.
As the school continues to navigate the pandemic, Long said it is exciting to have something so positive happening. "At this moment, we are in a pandemic," Long said. "Whatever we can do to bring happiness and fresh air to our kids during this time, I think the end result is going to be greater."