Classroom under the canopies: Recent Richmond grads restore outdoor classroom for class gift

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RICHMOND — In keeping with a Richmond Consolidated School tradition to present the school with a gift from the class, this year's graduating eighth-graders dug into the past. Instead of printing posters or engraving plaques, the Class of 2019 chose to take up work gloves and rakes, and revived the school's outdoor classroom.

Behind the school, and just down the hill from the blacktop and playground, is a wooded area that was previously best avoided. Dense with dead leaves and overgrown with poison ivy, it had become a hospitable habitat for ticks and bees. It had been constructed in 1985 for hosting classes and theatrical performances, but the upkeep lagged and the last documented use was in 1989.

Earlier this year, the eighth-grade class ventured out to explore it some more and found that while a set of benches previously established there had become waterlogged and worn by rain and age, the adjacent stage had more stability than thought, though it was in desperate need of a sweep and some surface care. Thankfully, said eighth-grader Brandon Macchi, "We're an ambitious class."

The group successfully unveiled their project last Wednesday, the eighth-graders' last day of school, with the entire school in attendance, cheering on the students' effort and rejuvenated space.

Rising fourth-grader Khloe Amankwah's face beamed at the announcement of having an outdoor learning space.

"We can have fresh air and learn about nature, find different creatures and move," she said. She added that it will also be an asset to the school's science club.

Ada Fowler said it's also good to mix up learning environments to help shift and improve kids' moods.

"It's good to learn outdoors if it makes kids happy. You can't learn very much if you're really unhappy or being bullied by a student or bored," she said.

To get to this finished, well-received result, the eighth-grade class asked for and received a lot of help from the community along the way, as the class members detailed in Wednesday's brief unveiling ceremony.

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To help them identify the needs of the project and work schedule, local landscaper Adam Weinberg happily pitched in his expertise. Students who took some measurements determined that the class would have to rehabilitate an area equivalent to 228 square yards. That's about a third of the size of the interior turf of a baseball diamond.

"Once we had a plan, we needed funds to make it happen," class member Tessa Hanson told the student audience.

Her class reached out to the school's Parent Teacher Association, and also made a presentation on April 9 at a school committee meeting.

"They were a force to be reckoned with at the meeting," said Rachel Kanz, the teacher who helped them coordinate the project.

The students — Hanson, Aiden Hoogs, Ellie Kanz, Macchi, Megan Mitchell, Collin Parker, Serena Rhind, Emily Roller, Nate Smith and Uladzimir "Vova" Tsyrkunou — each helped develop and deliver parts of a slideshow presentation. It highlighted the outdoor classroom's origins and outlined to benefits of an outdoor space to the staff and students, which they had also researched.

The group spent the spring removing trees, spreading landscape cloth and wood chips, installing new benches and landscaping to restore a beautiful, usable space. Their efforts were made possible thanks to support from the PTA, School Committee, school staff and community volunteers Rick Latimer, Kevin and Ben Holden, Jay Rhind, Dan Fabiano, Chris Kanz, and Weinberg, who donated materials and labor.

While the eighth-graders won't directly reap the benefits, Mitchell said the class members plan on keeping tabs on the project and soliciting students from other classes to help maintain the space.

"We are a small class, and we're a close class," said Ellie Kanz.

In the past, several students noted, the class had pitched big ideas but struggled to follow through on them.

So, Mitchell said, "It was very meaningful for our class to bring [the outdoor space] back."


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