A group of volunteers is building an outdoor classroom at Wiscasset Elementary School.
Kindergarten teacher Clara Brown, former physical education teacher Daniela Marino, and Wiscasset School Committee Co-chair Jason Putnam came up with the plans last spring and received a permit from the town to build the pavilion-style structure.
The Wiscasset-based nonprofit Chewonki Foundation Inc. will provide about $4,000 to the project, while Ames Supply donated half the materials and Hancock Lumber Co. provided a $500 discount.
Putnam, a carpenter, is doing most of the work, while Brown, Marino, and seven other teachers and community members have joined in to help.
Chewonki, which runs educational programs with an environmental focus, has partnered with the school for years, Brown said. Chewonki is part of the Environmental Living and Learning for Maine Students Project, which works with Maine schools to provide outdoor learning programs.
The classroom, in front of the playground, was Marino’s idea.
“My intention was to get kids outside more and I feel like, with technology today, it’s so easy for children to become enveloped in that world,” Marino said. “I think it’s more important for children to get outside in their environment, and have hands-on learning, cooperative learning, and communicate with each other.”
Marino approached Chewonki, which made the project possible, she said.
Though Marino has accepted a contract with another school, “she is determined to follow through with the project,” Brown said.
Brown said the group has received support from Wiscasset Elementary School Principal Stacy White and former Wiscasset School Department Superintendent Heather Wilmot, who came to planning meetings.
“Right now we try to get the kids moving and try to get the kids outside as much as possible, so this is going to be the most ideal, most convenient situation for all teachers in this school … the anticipation for the staff is just about equal to what the kids are going to feel when they see it,” Brown said.
Since early June, volunteers have met five times for about two to three hours each to work on the classroom. There is no timeline to finish the classroom, according to Brown, because volunteers are doing the work in their free time.
The classroom will have open sides and a peaked and shingled roof, with the rafters visible underneath, Putnam said. Benches will line the perimeter of the classroom and face an open space in the middle.
The classroom will measure 20 by 28 feet, large enough for two classes to use it at once, Brown said. A shed next to the classroom, also funded by Chewonki, will hold student materials.
Brown said no one told the students about the classroom at the end of the school year because they did not want to make any “false promises.”
Teachers of all grades and subjects will use the classroom, and Brown thinks they can use it throughout the entire school year.
The volunteers are excited about the new teaching space.
“I think it’s going to be fun to see the students’ excitement,” said kindergarten teacher and volunteer Shania Creamer.
Michelle Brand, a new fourth-grade teacher who will start in the 2018-2019 school year, started volunteering to build the classroom Aug. 2.
“I’m excited to be part of a school that values outdoor education and wants to get the kids outside, and the more that they are observing firsthand and experiencing firsthand, the better,” she said.