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Four Columbia elementary schools move classrooms outdoors

Thursday, October 14, 2010 | 7:35 p.m. CDT; updated 9:01 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 14, 2010
Meredith Donaldson, an outdoor classroom consultant for West Boulevard Elementary, points out insects that students Grace Brinkmann, 9, Blessing Oliver, 9, and AaRaya Scott, 10, might find while bug catching at the school. The Environmental Protection Agency was at the school on Thursday to announce that Missouri River Communities received grant money for upgrading or building outdoor classrooms at four local schools, including West Boulevard.

COLUMBIA — Students at four Columbia elementary schools will begin spending more than recess outside.

West Boulevard, Benton, Russell Boulevard and Midway Heights will benefit from a $43,780 grant allocated by Missouri River Communities Network. The organization received the funding from the Environmental Protection Agency.

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The grant is aimed at marrying traditional indoor subjects with the outdoors. Information consultants will coach teachers on how to move items on the curriculum to a walls-free classroom.

“A physics teacher may ask, ‘How can I take this lesson outdoors?’” said Meredith Donaldson, an outdoor classroom specialist. “We’re prepared to do the research and help them put together a lesson plan to implement it.”

Donaldson said the four schools were chosen because of their staffs' enthusiasm.

“We required that the teachers be involved,” she said.

After the announcement, students visited the featured outdoor classrooms. Nine-year-old Zoe Bellman carried a “fish shocker” on her back while examining jars of preserved fish. She said her favorite thing about nature was being able to look at the fish and frogs.

In August, the Environmental Protection Agency named Columbia’s Missouri River Communities Network and Big Brothers and Big Sisters as two of eight recipients of environmental education grants totaling $217,036. Big Brothers and Big Sisters received $15,000. Agencies in Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas were also eligible and received funding.

Karl Brooks, regional administrator for EPA, addressed a small group of school officials, grant recipients, parents and students at West Boulevard. Brooks alluded to previous generations’ lack of environmental concern when explaining the EPA’s interest in youth education.  

“Secretly, we’re educating you to do a better job than we’ve done so far,” Brooks said, turning to the children. “It’s your world after this.”


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