Wiscasset, Maine. On June 5th, members of the community gathered to officially open a new addition to Wiscasset Elementary School: their very own outdoor classroom space. The new structure, made possible by local carpenter Jason Putnam, who donated his time and expertise to build it with volunteer help and support from Chewonki, which provided advice and grant funding.
Chewonki Director of Education Partnerships Keith Crowley used a very big pair of scissors to cut a red ribbon held by two students. The 24’ x 30’ wooden structure has open sides, a shingle roof, and benches along both long edges. It’s the brainchild of two teachers, Daniela Marino (the school’s former physical education teacher) and Clara Evans (a kindergarten teacher), who worked with Chewonki to make the project happen. Chewonki drew funds from an Elmina B. Sewall Foundation grant to purchase the building materials, including wood from Hancock Lumber in Damariscotta, which supported the project with a generous discount.
Crowley explained the evolution of the project: “A couple of years ago, Wiscasset Elementary School had a physical education teacher, Daniela Marino, who was passionate about getting students outside more often,” says Crowley. Together they hatched a plan, which soon included enthusiastic kindergarten teachers Shania Creamer and Clare Evans, who helped move it forward with Chewonki after Marino left.
The Wiscasset Elementary School outdoor 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,” says Chewonki President Willard Morgan. “This is one element of the collaborative work we’re doing to enhance learning across Wiscasset’s 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.”
“In spring 2018, we started connecting with stakeholders,” Crowley says. “Over the past year, Wiscasset carpenter Jason Putnam built the structure with volunteer help from his son Ivan, teachers, teachers’ spouses, parents, and other community members who stopped by when they could. We are extremely grateful to Jason for his generosity and to all the volunteers who lent a hand,” says Crowley.
Crowley added, “This outdoor space will expand the school’s capacity to give local children an opportunity to learn outside. I think of it as a base camp from which they can study wooded areas, fields, and the Sheepscot River. I hope this will make it easier for teachers to take students outdoors to learn. It’s a dynamic, effective way to bring to life and reinforce the classroom curriculum.”
The Sewall Foundation awarded the grant to support the Whole Schools, Whole Communities Initiative of Environmental Living and Learning for Maine Students (ELLMS). ELLMS includes Chewonki and four other outstanding environmental education centers working with 10 public school districts across Maine. To learn more about Whole Schools/Whole Communities and ELLMS, go to www.ellms.org.