The France Drake elementary school in Leominster has an open-air classroom
LEOMINSTER – Now that school is back, the Frances Drake Primary School community is once again enjoying the outdoor courtyard used by students, teachers and school staff.
“This is a long dream come true for all the staff and we all appreciate and use it,” said manager Andres Vera. “Everyone loves this place. “
The spacious space includes several tables, wide steps with kindness stones scattered on them that the students painted, landscaping, two birches that provide shade, and a spot reminiscent of a Japanese Zen garden.
“This has several purposes,” Vera said. “Outdoor classroom, conflict resolution, calm zone, relaxation, reading, etc.”
Vera said the idea for the project arose when they asked members of the school community to submit ideas on what they wanted to see the space used, which garnered feedback on trends from the education, including outdoor classrooms and quiet areas.
“It was a piece of land that we all knew had potential, but (it was) very difficult to complete a project because access to any machinery, such as an excavator, is very limited,” did he declare.
They started fundraising for the project in 2012, when Vera took over the school leadership after serving as the school’s deputy principal for seven years. The total estimated cost was around $ 120,000 and it was completed in the summer of 2019.
“Although we raised a few thousand dollars, most of it was made and paid for by private donors who asked to remain anonymous,” Vera said. “The project could not have been completed without the incredible contributions of great people who wanted to give back to the community. We will be eternally grateful. “
Assistant principal Wendy Hess, entering her 10th grade in her role, said the outdoor space was a huge improvement over what it used to be – a collection of invasive weeds.
“Honestly, it was an eyesore to all the classrooms that faced the yard,” she said. “Now it’s beautifully landscaped and very inviting, we love this outdoor space. Students and teachers enjoy reading outdoors, completing projects, and participating in outdoor classroom activities. It doesn’t get much better than that.
A time capsule containing letters and drawings from students and teachers, journals and other memorabilia was buried in the yard last school year and is expected to be unearthed in 2023. Andres said the outdoor space had proven particularly useful throughout the pandemic.
“Students really love being outside and we use it all the time, especially in this COVID era,” he said.
Fifth-graders traditionally do a big annual spring cleaning at the school, including the yard, and Andres said they’re always looking for “lots of volunteers” to help keep it looking good.
“It becomes a challenge to maintain the area, so I will take volunteers to keep it clean and tidy,” he said.