Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Prospect Hill plans outdoor classroom that will offer hands-on learning about nature and Planet Earth

Blueprint of the outdoor classroom. (Courtesy of Nicole Giglio)

A committee at Prospect Hill Elementary School is working on creating an outdoor classroom on the campus. After completing the project, three elementary schools in the district will have such outdoor learning spaces.

The effort began in the fall when parent Nicole Giglio said she set up the outdoor classroom committee “to help with the project, and I also began speaking to elected officials to begin talking to them about grant opportunities for funding.”

“As a special education teacher, I feel strongly about hands-on learning,” Giglio said. “The goal is to remove as much screen time as possible, help the students learn to appreciate nature and the planet and grow as members of society as a whole.”

Giglio estimated the project cost to be $100,000 to $125,000.

“We need to put our project out for bid, meaning that we need to have contractors and landscapers bid on the project with their ideas and their costs, so $100,000 to $125,000 is just an estimate,” she said.

Prospect Hill Principal Jeannine Carr is optimistic about the outdoor classroom’s potential at the school. “We’re lucky enough at Prospect Hill to have beautiful, park-like grounds, and we are also one of the only schools that does not have an outdoor learning space,” she said. “For me, an outdoor classroom will hopefully spark curiosity, a sense of wonder and a love of learning. [The students] will do a lot of science, planting and nature-based projects out there.”

The school community has been involved in the planning of the new classroom. “We initially brought in National Wildlife Federation educators to work with our teachers and talk about why an outdoor classroom is so beneficial for students and teachers,” Giglio said.

Students’ drawings of their ideal outdoor classroom space. (Courtesy of Nicole Giglio)

Teachers had a working session to brainstorm the ideal space at Prospect Hill, Giglio said. The students were also allowed, walking the space and sketching what they envisioned as the perfect learning area.

The committee spoke with teachers from Colonial and Siwanoy elementary schools about their outdoor classrooms to hear their experiences creating and using the spaces. “We were able to learn what works and what didn’t work so that we could create a space that we think is going to be very functional for our school,” Giglio said.

Giglio said she believes the new outside feature will provide uses for the greater community. Pelham Recreation “uses our space for sports games and everyone around town comes and uses our playground because it’s the largest playground and green space for the kids,” she said.

The outdoor classroom is split into different zones, according to Giglio. There will be a learning space for teachers to take their students out for classes, a gardening zone with raised beds of plants including flowers, fruits or vegetables and an amphitheater-like space for PTA meetings, student presentations or small-scale grade meetings. Another zone will allow for gross-motor play with features like a balance beam and stepping stones to encourage movement.

In addition, there are plans to include a gazebo for children who are injured or cannot access the playground equipment to be outdoors and participate in recess. There will be a hand-washing and clean-up station for students to sanitize before and after using the space.

Prospect Hill plans to raise money through a Trot for the Trees walkathon for students on Tuesday (rescheduled from Friday due to the heat). “They are super, super excited,” Giglio said. “They wrote letters in class, asking loved ones to sponsor them for the fun run and through that we raised about $36,000 in three weeks.” (At time of publication, $49,425 had been raised.)

The committee is also welcoming members of the community to contribute through a brick fundraiser. “You can purchase a brick, put your customized message on it and then your name or your family’s name or your business’s name will forever be in the outdoor classroom along the path,” Giglio said.

The Trot for the Trees fundraising website is linked here. The brick fundraiser website is linked here.


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About the Contributor
Gillian Ho, Deputy Managing Editor
Gillian Ho is a senior at the Horace Mann School. She has been a Pelham resident since 2016 and has written for the Pelham Examiner since its start in 2018. In school, Gillian writes for her school's newspaper and actively participates in public forum debate. She hopes to pursue journalism in college. During her free time, she fences in and out of school.

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