GATES MILLS, Ohio — Learning has a new look for students across Ohio this school year.
At Gates Mills Elementary School, there’s no room number for the newest classroom on campus. And, it’s a space unlike any other at the school.
“We’re outside, so there’s, like, more bugs,” said Victorious Richburg. “There’s, like, leaves and sticks and wood chips everywhere.”
It’s a learning environment in the environment.
“I like reading outside in the outdoor classroom because while we work, we get to listen to the nature,” said Colton Sanders.
The outdoor classroom is a gift from last year’s graduating elementary school class of fifth grade students.
“There were small benches back here that were built 20 years ago,” said teacher Jocelyn McCullough. “Just two-by-fours that had eroded and rotted away. And I brought the kids back here one day last fall, and one of the children said, ‘Why don’t we rebuild this?’”
McCullough’s fifth grade class raises funds for a service project to give back to the school each year. Her 2019-2020 students raised $500 to rebuild the outdoor classroom before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“Well, lo and behold, it’s perfect timing,” said McCullough.
The space outside is now used by all grade levels at the school and all subjects. Each desk and chair is made out of tree trunks. They’re spaced six feet apart to allow for social distancing.
“I like reading out here,” said Audrey Thomes.
“No one distracts us when we’re learning,” added Riya Sharma.
And students said they are able to lose another distraction when they study outside, as well.
“I don’t like wearing a mask, it’s really frustrating,” said Raeven Johnson. “That’s the part I like of outside. We don’t have to wear the mask.”
The classroom is a gift from students for students, leaving a lasting legacy.
“It’s a dream come true,” said McCullough. “It’s what the kids wanted.”
McCullough built the classroom with the help of volunteers. The wood is sealed to help protect it from the elements.
The community is also welcome to use the space when school is not in session.