ADAMS — In an effort to get students outside before winter weather hits, the Belleville Henderson Central School District has taken a page from the books of Alexandria Central School and Black River Elementary to offer students the chance to take part in a fun educational environment utilizing school grounds.
Using both stumps for outdoor classrooms and large, painted white squares for recreation, the district is making sure students remain safe and socially distant while also enjoying the outdoors and getting some much needed fresh air.
When weather permits, students are able to gather to take part in a variety of activities, such as listening to stories and working on class assignments, at one of seven outdoor classroom spaces, each with 15 to 20 stumps for students to use. In addition to the outdoor classrooms, the school maintenance staff painted large, white boxes on the grass, which teachers have been using for both instruction and recess activities.
“By providing an outdoor space for classrooms, such as sitting on stumps, students are able to take the regular classroom outside,” said building principal Scott A. Storey. “They can take out reading books — they can even take out their Chromebooks, because we have Wi-Fi outside the building — so those things that they do in their classroom, they can take outside and do much of the same things outside.
“... I think students, kids nowadays, any opportunity they can grab to get outside while still learning is a great advantage to schools,” he added.
Work on building the classrooms was a team effort. The logs for the stumps were donated by local resident Kelly McGrath and his wife Katie, who serves as the school’s band teacher, as well as district nurse Karen Bertram. The district’s technology instructor, Matthew Soluri, also worked with the custodial staff in constructing the outside spaces. After being presented with the idea, it took about a week to make all of the classrooms, Mr. Soluri said.
As Belleville Henderson is a pre-k through Grade 12 building, the outdoor classrooms are scattered in areas convenient to those different grade levels, according to Mr. Storey. He said students at various grade levels, as well as their teachers, have been utilizing the spaces. With the school operating on 90-minute periods, classes will generally go out for about 30 minutes at a time.
“The teachers love the outdoor classrooms, especially elementary teachers. They really take advantage of being outside,” Mr. Storey said. “When you’re outside doing a scavenger hunt, what better place to regroup than six or 10 feet apart, sitting on stumps?”
The outdoor classrooms were completed about a month ago, and the district has seen consistent use since. There’s one outdoor classroom next to the entrance for the elementary teachers, two on each end of the elementary basketball court, one in the courtyard by the pre-k room, one in the high school courtyard, one in the front of the school and one in the park.
As for the large, painted squares, custodial staff marked out the spaces to give kids a border to be able to understand social distancing and maintaining six feet of space between themselves and others.
“Those white boxes have been a big hit,” Mr. Storey said. “From there, they can do different games and activities (such as) jumping jacks in the box, Red Rover Red Rover where you run straight across or you’re running six feet apart somebody else — or 12 even — they’re a natural setting for students to be socially distanced outside. After they’re done playing games and doing whatever exercise in the white boxes, everyone can sit on a stump and have a book read to them.”