WEST PARIS — Students in the Agnes Gray Elementary School have been watching a classroom grow in the backyard of their school.
The outdoor classroom, which will allow the approximately 100 students to bring indoor learning to the outdoors under nearby hills, trails and a stream, is nearing completion.
Students from the Oxford Hills Technical School’s Building Construction Technology classes have been working at the West Paris school for the last month and a half on the building’s finish work. Last week they completed siding the 16′ x 20′ building and installing the fascia and soffit. The remaining part of their assignment will be to construct a handicapped access.
The Outdoor Classroom Initiative, a 5-year project supported by Agnes Gray staff, headed by Principal Elizabeth Clarke and third-grade teacher Betsey Cooper, and PTO members, will enable teachers in the school to build knowledge and skills in all curriculum areas in a hands-on learning, outdoor environment for their students.
The project 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, according to information from the school’s GoFundMe page, www.gofundme.com/maine-outdoor-classroom-building.
For the 100 or so students, it’s simply something really neat.
Clarke has said the project involved a large number of volunteers including Gould Academy’s Reachout community service organization in Bethel which constructed the timber-framed building 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 also helped build the classroom off site.
Other volunteers have donated time, materials and financial contributions and, this winter, the Oxford Hills Technical School second- and third-year Building Construction Technology students became involved as part of their learning process.
“If it was the subzero weather (as in December) it would have been pretty brutal,” said instructor Dan Daniels as he and trade assistant Cimeron Colby supervised the students on-site during a warm day in late February.
The students have installed a wavy pine board facing that is used to provide a more rustic look for the building’s exterior. The warm February weather has actually been an aid for the students who must wear cotton or no gloves when working with this type of siding.
But installing the wavy siding presented other issues as well.
Student Dawson Stevens said the curves in the siding mean’t the students had to do some re-configuring before they went on-site to make the installation.
“They makes mistakes but that’s how they learn,” said Daniels.
Each year, the building trades students tackle a major project. This year Daniels said they have been working with the University of Maine’s Learning Center at Bryant Pond building 2-by-24-foot cabins on the mountain side to replace the old canvas tents that house students at the learning center,
The Agnes Gray outdoor classroom project was done during down time.
Daniels said the building trades, like other trades the school offers, has seen an up and down curve over the years in terms of participation. Next year, it is expected to fill all 32 spots, but in an attempt to get more interest, Daniels said they work with middle school and have an introductory course for freshmen.
The following students from Building Trades 3 were involved in the project: Dawson Stevens, Austin Canning, Jamal Hill, Talon Medeiros and from Building Trades 2: Keegan Chase, William Carrol, Nick Graham, Jensen Kennison, Emmanuel Farrington and Andrew Wilson-Bourque.