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Outdoor Classroom And Fitness Trail at Metcalf Laboratory School

Thinking outside the room, integrating landscape design and outdoor learning.

Metcalf Students Think outside the room

Pantagraph Artical 10/11/2014


NORMAL — Thomas Metcalf School's latest expansion hasn't come without a few bumps and bruises.

"An apple fell on my head," second-grader Annika Armstrong said with a laugh.

The school temporarily removed three trees — one due to emerald ash borer, one to maintain symmetry and another to eliminate falling fruit — to clear the way for an outdoor classroom on the north edge of its property.

The classroom can be reserved by teachers, similar to a computer lab, and includes stones for students to sit on, a stone slab desk for teacher materials and a dry erase board.

Second-grade teacher Beth Gordon said her students have used the area for everything from routine reading and writing to releasing butterflies and creating maps to direct their classmates to find buried treasure.

"(Indoors) the other classrooms can be noisy and make it hard to hear. ... (Outdoors) it's very peaceful," said second-grader Audrey Barbic.

Gordon said some students thrive in the outdoor classroom because of the environment; they find it easier to focus with flora and fauna nearby.

Metcalf staff discussed the classroom over the past two years as part of an expansion to its fitness trail, which has workout stations for core, seat and balance exercises and stretches. Two more stations are planned on the trail, which covers a quarter-mile of recycled dirt from the former Illinois State University softball field.

Metcalf's parent-teacher organization sold about 300 engraved bricks and commemorative signs to help raise money for the expansion, about $1,500 total. The school received most of the funds for the roughly $40,000 price tag from graduate Ryan Scritchlow and family.

"It was mostly a way to give back," said Scritchlow, a 2001 University High School graduate who owns Schritchlow Landscaping and Hydroseeding. "I view it as a family donation."

Scritchlow worked on the classroom over the summer with his father, K. Wayne Scritchlow. He pictured his former teachers — including science teacher Fred Basolo — using the room.

His siblings, Miles and Alyssa, also attended Metcalf.

"My favorite part was meeting with staff in the building," Scritchlow said. "It still feels like home."

Scritchlow and school leaders said ISU grounds workers were important to the process, offering fundraising tips to contributing ideas about landscaping.

ISU ROTC engraved the bricks, Business Manager Pat Miles said, including many with teachers' names and messages.

The school's only cost was $800 for "thank you boulders," including one engraved with the school's logo, and another that reads "2014 Outdoor Classroom Donated by the Scritchlow Family."

Because the area is reserved like a lab and it has weather-resistant components, physical education teacher Kim Walker-Smith said it will remain open as long as a teacher is brave enough to use it.

"I attribute a lot of my success to Metcalf, U High and the teachers ... and to think I could contribute to the next generation is amazing," Schritchlow said.

Designing a Outdoor Classroom

Designing an outdoor classroom is  a balancing act between the natural environment and the defined space of a classroom.  You need to allow for enough structure, seating areas, teaching areas, intimate close setting areas ect. More planning and time spent on the design elements, the better able the space is able to function over a wide range of ages and subjects.

Outdoor Classroom

With every project there is a balancing act between maintaining the natural environment and the structured space required for a learning environment.  Boulders were used to provide the seating for the students of all ages.  The teaching area is more structured and formal with a raised area with large stone slab table for teaching materials and a dry erase board.

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