By opening its new outdoor classroom Monday, Mill Creek Elementary School hopes to offer students a hands-on learning experience unlike any other Columbia Public School. The facility, behind the school, features a butterfly garden, a shelter house, and a walk path that winds through wetlands and a prairie.
Rob Myer, chairman of the outdoor classroom committee, said other schools have outdoor classrooms, but none offers as much as the new facility, located on the school’s 20-acre property.
“Other schools in Columbia have outdoor facilities, but the new butterfly garden and walkway path that combines the wetland and the prairie make Mill Creek’s outdoor classroom truly unique,” Myer said.
The wetlands were created by the Missouri Department of Conservation, and the prairie was made by volunteers. Both were in place before the outdoor classroom, but the new facility combines the two features with a walkway and stations that describe the trees and plants.
The butterfly garden was planted by the students of Mill Creek Elementary, who raised money by selling snowflakes made out of beads and pipe cleaners. Mill Creek parent Shelly Blevins said Strawberry Hill Farms, which is owned by her parents, donated many of the plants.
“We wanted to get plants that would attract butterflies but also bloom in the spring and fall, since that is when school is in session,” Blevins said.
Myer said he is excited about giving the community a closer look at the landscape of Mill Creek.
“Mill Creek has over 50 types of trees growing on its 20 acres of ground, including the wetland and prairie,” Myer said. “The new path combines all of these features and makes them easily accessible.”
Dana Daylor, a Mill Creek parent, is looking forward to her kids’ using the facility both during school and outside school.
“I think it will be great for their classes, plus I’m a Girl Scout leader and I think it would be great to have meetings here,” Daylor said. “It would be a good opportunity for the girls to explore the outdoors and get some merit badges.”
Members of Mill Creek science classes will not be the only students using the new facility. All classes will benefit from the new atmosphere, said second-grade teacher Heather Lewis.
“It will be great for science classes, but it will also help students with their writing,” Lewis said. “Just being in nature there is so much to inspire their writing, I believe there will always be someone using it.”
Terry Martin, principal of Mill Creek Elementary, sees the new outdoor classroom as a way to expand on traditional ways of learning.
“This is proof that education doesn’t have to happen within four walls,” Martin said. “We’re very lucky to be able to create this type of atmosphere outside the classroom.”