RANSON — Students at Ranson Elementary School are getting a unique experience outside the classroom. It’s a classroom that’s outside literally in their own backyard.
Engineers Without Borders International, a nonprofit organization, assisted in creating an outdoor classroom that includes musical instruments, 10 benches, bluebird houses and a solar energy set-up that can pump rainwater all on the Ranson campus.
Debra Corbett, Ranson’s principal, said the project started two years ago with a garden and picnic tables on campus.
“The children could work with their hands in the garden and gain a sense of awareness about nature,” Corbett said. “Once the outside classroom was here, the student interest has exploded. They come out here and make sketches. They’re excited and vocal. If I heard that much noise inside, I would come down the hall to see what’s going on. Out here, it’s not a problem.”
Kindergarten teacher Anne Miller was influential in getting grants to develop the area into a class space.
“We had worked with Ranson Old Town Community Gardens for the school garden. I thought this would be a perfect space for a classroom where the kids could touch and feel and be with nature,” Miller said.
Miller connected with Engineers Without Borders members Roger Ethier, Borders’ technical director and co-founder; Ismail Celik and former teacher Jim Jenkins. Engineers Without Borders International created an outdoor classroom at North Jefferson Elementary School last year. Tentative plans are in the works for a third garden, pending suggestions from the community.
“This kind of classroom opens up new pathways for learning,” said Ethier. “It’s something they don’t get inside or at home. Statistics from an outdoor classroom in Boston showed the dropout rate for students was reduced by 50 percent.”
Work began on the classroom in May in time for it to be ready for the school year. Walmart in Charles Town donated $2,400 for the project.
“The city of Ranson brought in large tree stumps for the children to sit on,” Ethier said. “They have been willing to help with whatever we need. We are going to be making a labyrinth shortly. Ranson will deliver the 400 to 600 pounds of stones needed.”
A labyrinth is a network of stone paths that people silently follow.
“Walking the labyrinth will slow kids’ minds down. They become more aware of where they are,” Ethier said.
Corbett said three to four classes are able to use the outdoor classroom at the same time.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Miller’s kindergarten class along with Melissa Back’s class used the area to watch science experiments performed on pumpkins.
Ranson Elementary School has 330 students grades K through 5.