COLUMBIA — The greenhouses that were added to the outdoor classroom at Benton Elementary School last year still don't have electricity.

Without it, the two greenhouses can't power fans and heaters, which provide climate control and help with spring planting.

To solve the problem, Benton worked with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture to identify solar panels as a possible solution to heating the greenhouses. Benton is one of the eight schools to partner with the center's new outdoor classroom initiative.

Benton STEM specialist Heather McCullar said the school first developed its outdoor classroom more than nine years ago and expanded it last year with gardens, composting and raised beds.

"Our main goal is to get kids outside engaged in what they are learning," McCullar said. "If kids are learning plants, they can get actual experience with plants to better understand the content by learning in the outdoor classroom."

Because Benton is a STEM school, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, "we really look for any opportunity to get hands-on experiences for our kids," McCullar said.

The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture received a $55,320 grant in October from State Farm Insurance for its outdoor classroom program that includes the following elementary schools: Benton, Russell Boulevard, Midway Heights, West Boulevard, Lee, Blue Ridge, Rock Bridge and Grant.

"All of the schools have had outdoor classroom spaces. Maybe they just haven’t been used. So, we are trying to revitalize the spaces and help them realize how valuable it can be to come out," said Lori McCurdy, outdoor classroom manager for the center.

Each school uses a committee of teachers and parents to develop plans for how to use and improve the outdoor classrooms.

"Every school is different. It’s going to be up to the schools to appeal to us, like what project they want," McCurdy said.

Each year, the program will provide the outdoor classrooms with $1,000 for supplies and $250 for field trips, travel and expert guests. Other schools that aren't partners can also apply for financial help.

The center's expertise and contributions to Benton's outdoor classroom are important, McCullar said. All of the classrooms in Benton are now using the outdoor classroom space, McCullar said.

There will be two more openings for partner schools in the spring.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

Recommended for you