‘Cool’: Community effort gets WES outdoor classroom

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 7:00am

With applause, a whole-school, Wiscasset Elementary School thank you, and a really big pair of scissors Chewonki Foundation's educational partnerships director Keith Crowley held behind his back before the ribbon-cutting, WES celebrated its outdoor classroom June 5.

Students and staff, project volunteers, Superintendent of Schools Terry Wood, and Chewonki and Wiscasset Area Chamber of Commerce contingents gathered on the damp lawn in the afternoon sun and the wooden classroom's shade.

A group effort made the classroom happen, according to speakers and information Chewonki provided. School Committee member Jason Putnam lives up Hooper Street from the school. As a volunteer, the carpenter-general contractor built it with help from other volunteers including son Ivan.

Putnam got students' thanks in cards and notes they made him.

He didn't do it for the thanks, it just seemed like a worthwhile project, Putnam said in an interview. But the students' gratitude was fantastic, and meant a lot, he said. Asked about the level of satisfaction he was feeling that day, he said: "Oh, it's very high. Very high. The kids were great," he said minutes after the ceremony.

WES and Chewonki thanked each other and thanked the Putnams and parents and other volunteers. Chewonki writer-editor Anne Leslie said the Chewonki Neck Road, Wiscasset nonprofit used grant funds from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation to buy building materials for the 24’ by 30’ classroom with benches and a shingle roof.

According to Chewonki, about two years ago, it and then-WES physical education teacher Daniela Marino, passionate about getting students outside more, started planning; kindergarten teachers Shania Creamer and Clara Evans joined the effort;and the project got the grant in connection with the Whole Schools, Whole Communities Initiative of Environmental Living and Learning for Maine Students (ELLMS).

Looking around the grounds in an interview, Crowley said the classroom can give the school a quiet place for reflection or activities. "Our hope is that it makes it that much easier for teachers to bring their students outside ... (WES has) one of the best school properties that I've seen in the state, being so close to the Sheepscot River, they have a wonderful view, they have wooded areas nearby. So I really hope that this is a bit of a base camp so that students can come out as often as possible."

The project took volunteers' skills and hard work, including Putnam's and teachers', Crowley said. "Without that, I don't know that we would have been able to pull it off."

Wood, interviewed separately, said her experience with outdoor learning showed her, and will show WES students, "We don't have to be in a brick building to be learning. Learning opportunities are everywhere you look for them."

The classroom is part of “a broader long-term commitment Chewonki has made to partner with the Wiscasset schools in developing community-connected, active, outdoor learning,” Chewonki President Willard Morgan said in a statement Leslie provided. “This is one element of the collaborative work we’re doing to enhance learning across the K-12 span. And while Chewonki is all for having fun outside, our goal for this new structure is that the school uses it to support positive academic outcomes, student health, and community engagement and stewardship.”

Creamer told the Wiscasset Newspaper her students were excited about the new classroom. Interviews backed that up. "Cool,” Emma Stewart, 6, called it. The event was “awesome,” she said.

Asked how she felt about getting to be in the classroom, Cora Robinson, 5,  said “excited.” Her favorite part was when the ribbon was cut, she said. She and classmate Gavin Spinney got to hold the red ribbon as Crowley, flanked by Putnam, Creamer, Wood and Chamber President Jean Beattie Flynn, cut it to cheers.

The Chamber lent the scissors and donated the ribbon, WACC representatives said.