BUCKHANNON — Teachers and parent volunteers, as well as students of Union Elementary, gathered at the school on Sunday afternoon to construct their new greenhouse, assemble outdoor tables and build raised garden beds. The group then planted a variety of seeds in anticipation of eventually harvesting the fruits of their labor.
Union Elementary is actively working on preparing for their students to be outside. The school has many different plans for using the garden, as they strive for experiential learning. “We have so much community support at Union and we are just so ready and prepared to teach outdoors as often as we can this fall,” said Michelle Fleming, Principal of Union Elementary School. “We have raised beds that each classroom will get to decide what they want to plant and then watch it grow for the fall. We also have a garden that has been tilled by one of our volunteers, Jeff Perkins.”
Pumpkins will be utilized in many different ways this fall, as students will be given creative ways to use them in math, science and reading classes. Fleming explained, “The current first grade students for the school year are each planting a pumpkin mound, with which they will do a pumpkin project in the fall and use their pumpkin for a reading project. We have a parade of characters and they will decorate their pumpkins to be a character of the book! So, all of this is an ongoing educational project.”
Fleming explained that the outdoor learning initiative did not start with the coronavirus. “This is a project that was started way before COVID-19, but of course, with the push for outdoor classrooms, we have a lot more volunteers to help get these amenities in place before school starts.” Union Elementary received three grants, and also used money from last year’s fundraiser, which totaled around $15,200. These funds are being used towards the greenhouse, outdoor classroom, garden area and other garden supplies. This effort was organized by previous teacher and new Washington District Principal Gabrielle Rhodes. The second outdoor classroom was built beside the other existing outdoor classroom, which was built by Eagle Scout Graham Godwin from Troop 128 in 2002.
Along with outdoor classrooms, students will receive their own Apple tablets for one-on-one, hands-on learning, in conjunction with a white board. “The students will be able to come out, rain or shine, basically as long as weather permits, and be taught not only science, but social studies, math and be able to use our campus as a learning environment, literally,” Fleming emphasized.
Fleming concluded, “All of our staff, students and parents have been communicating via many distance learning formats and we are all excited. We know that it’s not if, it is how we are going to come back after Labor Day, and everyone is willing to do whatever it takes as far as safety measures and personal distancing, and wearing face coverings to ensure safety, which is always first and primary at our school and in education. We are so ready to teach. We are also very excited about the new school year.”