August 2013
Youth Matters

Collins Elementary School Certified as Outdoor Classroom

Dr. Judy Berry, superintendent of Scottsboro City Schools, assists students in developing the frog ponds in the Collins Elementary Outdoor Classroom.  

James Ray Collins Elementary School is the first school in the Scottsboro school system, the first school in all of Jackson County and the 41st school in Alabama to become certified as an official Outdoor Classroom through the Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program. They will provide a model for other schools in Jackson County and across the state who would like to develop an outdoor classroom and schoolyard wildlife habitat on their school grounds for hands-on learning opportunities for their students.

Collins Elementary’s Outdoor Classroom Certification Ceremony was held on May 16 at 1:30 p.m. to celebrate the school’s accomplishments. At the end of the ceremony, April Waltz with the Alabama Wildlife Federation presented the school with an official Alabama Outdoor Classroom certification sign and an Outdoor Classroom Activity Kit full of activity materials and resources including magnifying glasses and field identification guides for students to use in exploring their outdoor classroom habitats. In addition, Dr. Doug Phillips with the Alabama Public Television show Discovering Alabama donated the DVD series including 70 DVDs exploring Alabama’s wild places and natural resources helping make learning locally relevant.

Kyle Dobbs plants vegetables in a raised bed.

The Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program is a partnership between the Alabama Wildlife Federation, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The AOC program provides technical assistance for schools who want to develop sustainable outdoor "learning stations." Furthermore, these outdoor classroom sites provide hands-on, outdoor-learning opportunities allowing students of all ages to utilize multiple-disciplinary skills (math, science, history, geography and language arts) in a fun and exciting environment.

The "Collins Outstanding Outdoor Laboratory, the COOL place to be" includes an assortment of "learning stations" where students can participate in a variety of real-world studies including:

– A songbird habitat providing observation and research opportunities as students monitor bluebirds using nesting boxes to raise their young, the ruby-throated hummingbirds using the bird feeders and other birds using the natural habitat;

– A butterfly garden where students can study the lifecycle of a butterfly and the migration patterns of butterflies such as the Monarch butterfly that migrates to Mexico each winter;

– A fish pond providing opportunities to study aquatic plants and macro-aquatic ecosystem;

– A frog pond where students can study the metamorphosis of tadpoles into frogs;

– A bog garden where students learn about the importance of wetland ecosystems including the wildlife and plants utilizing these specific ecosystems;

– Raised bed gardens where students learn to grow, harvest and eat vegetables providing healthy eating options;

– A weather station and cardinal direction signs allowing students to monitor weather patterns and witness how different weather patterns cause changes in the environment and impact local crop production; and

– An outdoor pavilion where students can record their observations and discuss the data they have collected in the outdoor classroom.

Collins Elementary School’s Outdoor Classroom was the dream of some of the school’s teachers Cindy Wood, Barbara Harris and Lisa Williams. The Junior Master Gardener student group is a big part of the Outdoor Classroom. They are responsible for the routine maintenance and upkeep of the outdoor learning space. The group meets once a week and works through the Junior Master Gardener Curriculum. The teachers/leaders of the group work hard so each of the children participating will become certified Junior Master Gardeners.

The development of the project was a community effort with financial, technical and volunteer support being provided by the Bynum Foundation, Bellefonte Partners in Education, Master Gardeners including Jerry and Mary Ann Akin and April Lupardus-Waltz with the Alabama Wildlife Federation, Scottsboro Garden Club, Scottsboro Electric Power Board, Collins Elementary students and parents, and a wide variety of generous local businesses.

Luci Davis is the State Junior Master Gardener Coordinator. For more information on the program, phone 334-703-7509.