Students build classroom for Agnes Gray

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WEST PARIS — Students at Agnes Gray Elementary School may soon learn some of their lessons in an outdoor classroom.

“It’s pretty special,” said Principal Elizabeth Clarke, who along with third-grade teacher Betsey Cooper have spearheaded “The Outdoor Classroom Initiative.” It’s a five-year project supported by the school staff and PTO that will ultimately result in a 16-foot-by-20-foot building that will facilitate experiential, hands-on learning right in the school’s backyard.

Gould Academy’s Reachout community service organization in Bethel is already constructing the building. The work is under the supervision of teachers Pete Hedden and Chris Hayward. Chris Barstow, who has a timber harvesting business in Woodstock and a farm in Bethel, designed the building. Volunteer students from the Outing Club and other students are helping to build the classroom off site.

“We have this beautiful brook and the wood. It’s a unique little school,” Cooper said. The building backs up to a brook and hills where trails have been carved out.

It is the perfect backdrop for the project and the 100-plus pre-kindergarten through grade four students it serves, Cooper said.

According to information from the school GoFundMe page, www.gofundme.com/maine-outdoor-classroom-building, the Outdoor Classroom initiative includes the development of four interrelated components: Expeditionary-experiential/hands-on-STE(A)M teaching and learning, a physically active and socially healthy recess program, attractive and productive school gardens, and a trail system to be accessed directly behind the school. The campaign has raised almost $1,600 of its $5,600 goal in the last three months to offset the construction costs.

Cooper said the idea is to take the curriculum students are now learning inside the school and make connections to the outdoors in all areas.

“Now when it’s raining we can still do that,” Cooper said.

The building will allow the students to be outside collecting samples and have a place to spread them outside, create catalogues and other work, she said.

In addition to funds, Clarke said they are looking for other donations including two exterior doors and six standard size windows and picnic tables.

Anyone who would like to help with the framing and construction can also contact the school at 207-674-2332.

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