Elvin Hill gets outdoor classroom restored

By SASHA JOHNS / Community Columnist

It all started when two local dads out for a walk with their families caught a glimpse of something that started a conversation.

While on the cross country trail behind Elvin Hill Elementary School, Columbiana residents Joel Dixon and Corley Ellis spotted a small, forgotten amphitheater-style structure that had fallen into disrepair. Overgrown and even damaged by fallen trees, the families left with more questions than answers.

After a little investigation, they learned that this was Elvin Hill’s decade-plus old outdoor classroom that had become unsafe for the students to use. More than 10 years ago, Elvin Hill had been the beneficiary of a grant from Alabama Forests Forever Education that provided for the building of the outdoor learning space that had been enjoyed for many years.

Gifted programs teacher Martha Bentley remembered fondly the original installation of the classroom from her early years at Elvin Hill: “It was such a beautiful space to take the children so they could use all five of their senses when it came to learning.”

Dixon, a member of All Pro Dads at the school and husband to the PTO president Amy Dixon, reached out to teacher Scott Byrne, who facilitates the group, and he, in turn, reached out to Scott Vansant of Eagle Construction, who is also an All Pro Dad.

With funds for materials provided from an anonymous source and labor from Eagle Construction, the forgotten outdoor classroom was revitalized within a matter of days, making it ready for the new school year.

The classroom is just a short walk up a hill into a wooded area behind the playground on the school property. Students will have the chance to stretch their legs and enjoy a little exercise when they are treated to class time outside. Once there, they’ll find pea gravel paths and theater-style bench seating that all face a rustic podium as the focal point of the space.

Principal Courtney Madison is thrilled to have renewed access to this resource for her teachers and students. Madison, who was a teacher when the space was first used years ago, told me, “This can be a quiet outdoor environment for teachers to use for anything from lessons to just a place to share a snack and a talk with students as a class. They will have opportunities to share creative writing as well as investigate the nature around them.”

Bentley is especially looking forward to making use of the classroom with her gifted services students: “I’m so excited to be able to take the children out to this space to study environmental systems and to use their five senses to allow them to lead their journaling. It’s also a great resource to give them a break from the bombardment of the busy tech of the world they are growing up in. I have students who rarely get to experience silence.

“This resource will give them that opportunity. It’s good for not only their creativity but their spirit and brain growth too.”

Sasha Johns is a community columnist who writes about Columbiana.