Sycamore Elementary teacher Beverly Carlan, center, cuts a hose during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday for a new outdoor classroom, as Kim Glass, assistant principal, second from left, and Eagle Scout Palmer Windsor, a North Gwinnett senior, assist. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
SUGAR HILL — A new classroom opened on Tuesday at Sycamore Elementary without walls, and with a ceiling of the clear blue sky.
Four years in the making, teachers, students and staff at the school unveiled the outdoor classroom with a ribbon-cutting ceremony as teacher Beverly Carlan used a pair of hedge trimmers to cut a garden hose. In a project that had support from several student groups and community organizations, the school received funding from the Gwinnett Master Gardeners, the Lanier Cluster Foundation and Home Depot.
“I’m very excited that we’re going to get to learn outside, because sometimes it can be a little cramped inside,” fourth-grader Emilie Balli said. “It’s just nice to get some fresh air, and it helps me think.”
Added fifth-grader Jesus Carbajal, “I really can’t wait to actually use it, so far we’ve only worked in there.”
There’s also a $3,000 grant request submitted to Lowes to provide shade structures, and the school needs to bring in about $2,000 more in fundraising, Carlan said.
The goal is to create a comfortable outdoor working environment to offer project-based learning for all students, she said. An acronym made out of flowers in the classroom is called “GLOW,” which stands for Grow, Learning, Observe and Wonder.
“It offers student engagement and an opportunity to build curiosity and creativity within the kids,” Carlan said. “You’ll find with anybody, if people are having a hard time, or having any issue, they want to get outdoors, they want fresh air. School these days can be very stressful for kids. This gives them an outlet at the same time, we can continue learning as they’re outside enjoying nature.”
Karen Alexander, a certified master gardener who represented the Gwinnett Master Gardener’s Association, said outdoor classrooms have become increasingly popular in the last decade.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened,” she said.
Among the groups who joined the project were the Parent Teacher Association, the junior Beta Club, the Gwinnett alumnae chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Boy Scout troop No. 513 and Cub Scout pack No. 545.
North Gwinnett High senior Palmer Windsor worked on the classroom as part of his Eagle project for about five months, and said it was a lot of hard, but a lot of fun. The additional benches he built helped the school save on supplies so they can spend additional grant money on other aspects of the classroom.
Some of the classroom projects the students will work on in the classroom are related to life sciences, such as plants, flowers, rain gauges and wind mills. For an upcoming discovery unit, students will plant crops that could be found during the colonial period.
“Instead of having to have a pot inside to move to a window, they’ll come outside and use these planters to grow their crops to simulate colonizing in the new world,” Carlan said.