Pelham Oaks students working to build outdoor classrooms

By BRIANA HARRIS / Staff Writer

PELHAM – Students at Pelham Oaks Elementary have been learning about agriculture, resource conservation and stewardship while building two outdoor classrooms for the school to enjoy.

Gifted education teacher Sherry Wood has been working with students for the majority of the 2016-17 school year to build the two outdoor classrooms – one is for primary students grades K-2 and the other is for intermediate students grades 3-5.

Wood said the school’s teachers, the Parent Teacher Organization and other local entities have made the outdoor classrooms possible.

“Our teachers chipped in some of the money they get every year to buy supplies for their students, the PTO donated $350, top soil was donated to us by Miracle Grow through the 4-H Extension of Shelby County and Home Depot gave us discounts on the things we needed from there,” Wood said. “We’re making all of this happen without a grant. Our thought process was, ‘Well let’s start with us and then see what other help we can get.’”

The school has applied for some grants for the outdoor classroom that will hopefully be awarded and received next school year.

Wood said students just started working on the outdoor classroom for the primary students about a month ago. It has lower tables and is located on their side of the school, Wood said.

Wood’s fourth grade gifted students spent part of Thursday, Dec. 8, building tables for the primary students’ outdoor classroom. Wood said the older students have taken on the task of building the outdoor classrooms.

“We’re building tables right now and the teachers will tell make suggestions about what else goes out there,” Wood said.

Wood and her students began building the intermediate outdoor classroom in September. It is equipped with tables built by students, a compost built by a student and his parents, solar fountains, display boards and raised garden beds where lettuce, kale and cabbage are growing.

Students walked to a pine grove near the school and collected and bagged pine straw to spread throughout the garden.

Wood said students are learning to be good stewards of the school, how to be more organized, how to plan ahead and how to conduct research on plants.

“They read about agriculture a lot in their textbooks, but they very rarely get a chance to see how it works in real life,” Wood said.

Wood said the students in the gifted program have taken the lead when it comes to constructing the outdoor classroom, but the entire school helps care for the garden and keep it watered. She said teachers have taught lessons in the outdoor classroom and sometimes eat lunch out there, too.

“We’re out to benefit every child,” she said.

Wood is working with the cafeteria to coordinate a taste testing for students.

“We’re going to pull up some of the vegetables and examine their root system and then the cafeteria will clean the veggies so we can taste them,” Wood said.

Wood said donations from the public are welcomed to help make more improvements to the outdoor classrooms. Right now she is need of barrels that will be used to catch rainwater falling from the roof of the school.

To help, contact Pelham Oaks at 624-3703.