Learning Moves Outdoors

Learning Moves Outdoors

Visitors to last Thursday's open house at Ravensworth Elementary in Springfield got a sneak peek at the school's pride and joy for the new year.

Festooned with balloons, a gazebo on the school's front lawn greeted students and parents as they arrived back to check out the school. The gazebo was purchased entirely with funds from an anonymous $10,000 donation the school's Parent-Teacher Association received in January.

"We were overwhelmed," said Pam O'Connor, the school's assistant principal, who was informed of the donation by principal Dr. Ray Ross.

"He said, 'Hold onto your hats, you're not going to believe this,'" O'Connor said.

The donation came with two stipulations, according to PTA president Susan Fleming: The money must be used to benefit all the students in the school, and the end result must be permanent. After forming a committee and pooling recommendations from faculty, parents and administration, the PTA struck upon the idea of the gazebo in late March.

"We were humbled that someone would entrust us with a gift of this size and expect we would use it for the benefit of all the students," said Fleming, who could not reveal the name of the donor but said it was a parent who was appreciative of the school's emphasis on including parents in the educational process, such as the weekly reading time to which parents are invited.

"The gazebo is the end product, but it's a reflection of the parents helping the kids at this school," Fleming said.

"I've done this for 28 years and never had anyone write a $10,000 check," said Ross.

THE IDEA behind the gazebo, according to PTA member Elisa Meridian is to "get (students) outside and get some fresh air." The gazebo will be used for outdoor lessons, especially in science and art classes, and will eventually become a part of an "outdoor discovery schoolyard," which Meridian hopes will be used in many subject areas and will also include a small garden where students will plant bulbs and establish a butterfly conservancy.

Fleming said the PTA saw a similar facility in action at Tuckahoe Elementary in Arlington and that she also envisions the gazebo’s being used for the school's Colonial Day, Renaissance Day and Pioneer Day celebrations, and for an upcoming ice cream social.

"What can we do outside to enhance the teaching inside?" she said.

For sixth-grader Connor Gillette, who took in the view of the school from the ring of benches that encircle the inside of the gazebo, the prospect of learning under sunny skies and balmy breezes is tantalizing.

"It's pretty cool," he said. "I like the idea of the teachers being able to bring us out here and teach us about nature."