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Arcado opens new outdoor classroom

LILBURN - At Arcado Elementary, no child will be left behind - or inside.

The Parkview cluster school on Friday officially opened its outdoor classroom in the space that last year won the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia's Ugliest School Yard Contest.

Visitors dodged raindrops to see the different features of the landscaped classroom and listened as fourth-graders talked about the elements incorporated into the space.

Kyle Tay showed off the bog plants and the bioretention pond.

When asked how he knew about the plants, the fourth-grader said, "Ms. Shane (Arcado's science specialist) told me about all of them, and I listened very carefully."

The outdoor classroom includes sensory and pollinator gardens, amphitheater-style seating and a podium, benches made from recycled milk jugs and boxes each grade level can use to plant seeds.

Konnie Torbahn, the co-chair of the PTA's environmental committee, said the area has been transformed from a place that previously consisted of weeds, mud and not much else.

"The concept is for it to be a fun, living laboratory for environmental education," she said.

The project was funded through the PTA and a $5,000 grant from Lowe's Toolbox for Education program.

Parkview senior Drew Carr, a former Arcado student, created the benches, podium and garden boxes for his Eagle scout project. He said he chose the project after learning the school's former outdoor classroom had been destroyed.

"I remember the outdoor classroom when I was here," he said. "I want the other kids to have the same opportunity I had."

Going outside, planting seeds and watching them grow is an experience children will remember, said Debi Shane, the science specialist.

"We put students outside to gain knowledge they couldn't gain in another environment," she said.

Joe Ahrens, the school's principal, said the space provides a different learning environment for the children.

"To me, this is the best public education has. It takes the community coming together to put something together for the use of our school," he said. "It was a space that was not used, it was not useful, and they've taken that and made an addition to the school."