Outdoor Classroom Unearthed

By Jillian H.

On Wednesday, May 4th, the Duxburrow Outdoor Learning Area officially opened, complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, walking tours, and various presentations. The outdoor classroom, named after the old path it encompasses, aims to provide Duxbury students with historic and ecological learning opportunities.

“An outdoor classroom brings nature into the classroom and provides students with the opportunity to engage in authentic real world learning experiences/projects,” said Mrs. Lewis, district director of technology, describing the value of the outdoor learning center. “The learning becomes interdisciplinary.”

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Though it has been available for use for a while, the outdoor classroom officially opened May 4th.

The outdoor classroom, or the “Bird Sanctuary,” is located behind Alden Elementary School. The site spans ponds, wetlands, marshland, and tidal rivers, and it features historical locations as well as an outdoor amphitheater. Alden teachers Mrs. Geigle, Mrs. Madigan, and Mr. Sheptyck’s classes developed a StoryWalk™ program which relays local history in several spots through the use of QR codes.The amphitheater, which will allow for many types of different performances, was designed by Mrs. Lewis’s engineering classes and built by Mr. Files’s woodworking classes. Soon, the development team hopes to plant gardens in the area as well.

There are many ways in which the outdoor learning center can be used. Science classes can survey and observe the environment by doing such things as taking soil samples and harvesting ice. Duxbury history may be made more personal to students when they are presented with the stories the StoryWalk™ program tells. In addition, the team hopes that other subject teachers can find ways to creatively make use of the land.

Already, teachers have brought their students outside, either to use the land or further contribute to the project. DMS science teacher Mrs. Victor had her students identify leaves and plants in the outdoor classroom. She has also utilized the space to conduct physical science and calculate velocity. “Taking kids outside to really experience what they’re learning in the classroom is the best way to help students learn,” said Mrs. Victor.

The new science department supervisor Mrs. McCarthy had her students put together brochures and information about native birds in the outdoor classroom. Taking over the supervisor position from Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. McCarthy was excited to explore ways in which all kinds of classes can use the space. She said, “[The kids] love to go outside, and I’m happy to provide that opportunity!”

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1940 Survey Map of the land that is now the outdoor learning area.

Mrs. Sheehan’s middle school students created maps of the outdoor learning area, using concepts and skills from geography. In the future, Mrs. Sheehan hopes to use the amphitheater as a tool to study ancient Greece and Rome. “I think when you think of an outdoor learning area, you instantly see it as being primarily used by the science teachers,” Mrs. Sheehan said. “However, as a history teacher, I certainly find value in the outdoor classroom.”

The project, first initiated in 2013 by members of the community, was funded largely by the Duxbury Education Foundation and Battelle. Battelle is a non-profit charitable trust that works to “translate scientific discovery and technology into societal benefits.” Tracy Stenner, a scientist and manager at Battelle, worked closely with Mrs. Lewis on the project to take advantage of the ecological system surrounding the schools. Among other things, the Battelle grant contributed tools and resources in the creation of the amphitheater and osprey nest.

Stenner said, “We [at Battelle] are always looking forward, and in our quest to solve what matters most for generations to come, we help educators and young people prepare for careers of tomorrow by building a strong foundation in science, technology and math.”

Another motivation for the outdoor learning center was the desire to get students away from the technology-driven classroom and into nature. Former co-chair of Sustainable Duxbury Judi Vose said she joined the project in excitement when she realized students would have an opportunity to learn about their local environment.

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Duxbury residents Kristine Brennan and Judi Vose with the plaque commemorating Huckins and Carson at the entrance to the outdoor classroom.

Vose also hopes the outdoor classroom will inform Duxbury students about former resident Olga Owens Huckins, friend of famous scientist Rachel Carson. She claims that Carson’s book Silent Spring, which ignited the environmental movement, was inspired in part by letters Huckins wrote to Carson. In these letters, Huckins described how birds in her Powder Point Ave backyard were dying of pesticide chemicals and urged Carson to address this issue.

Vose said, “Like Concord is the start of the American revolution, I feel as though Duxbury could be known as the start of the modern environmental movement…you kids are the messengers that are going to take this message out into the world and clean up our mess.”

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