Outdoor-learning space offers breath of fresh air at Colonial Hills Elementary School

Stephen Borgna
ThisWeek group
Colonial Hills Elementary School sixth-grader Zoe Kuzio and other members of a samba band warm up for an opening ceremony Oct. 28 at the new outdoor-learning space in a 7-acre ravine behind the school at 5800 Greenwich St. It includes seating areas, a demonstration table and a V-shaped awning over the main area that collects rainwater and allows the outdoor space to be used in all weather conditions. It also features a walking bridge over a creek and volunteer-maintained trails.

With the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic making people more cautious indoors, Colonial Hills Elementary School students have more opportunities to learn in fresh air with a new outdoor-learning space behind the building.

The space, officially unveiled by Worthington Schools officials and parents during a ceremony Oct. 28, is in a 7-acre ravine behind the school at 5800 Greenwich St. It includes seating areas, a demonstration table and a V-shaped awning over the main area that collects rainwater and allows the outdoor space to be used in all weather conditions.

It also features a walking bridge over a creek and volunteer-maintained trails.

“We’re so excited to have an extension of our school building in this beautiful ravine, where we can take our learning outdoors,” Colonial Hills principal Sherri Berridge said.

The outdoor-learning space may be reserved by teachers to utilize it as an extension of their classrooms, particularly in the life sciences. It has been in use by Colonial Hills teachers, staff members and students since the beginning of the academic year and is used by 150 to 200 students throughout the week.

Colonial Hills Elementary School's Kirby the Cougar dances during an opening ceremony Oct. 28 at the new outdoor-learning space in a 7-acre ravine behind the school at 5800 Greenwich St.

The project largely was organized by a committee of parent-teacher-association parents over the past three years. They sourced more than $36,000 in funding through donations from local businesses and organizations.

“We’re really excited that we were able to unveil it this year, especially with COVID happening,” said project co-chair Heather Doherty, who has a sixth-grader and a fourth-grader at Colonial Hills. “It’s a great way to keep our kids outside and safe. Our goals were also to help them achieve academically and for emotional well-being and connection with nature. We knew learning outside would help us achieve all of those things.”

“We have this great natural resource behind our school, but it wasn’t really being utilized," said project co-chair Lindsay Roop, who has a sixth-, fourth- and second-grader at Colonial Hills. "So we wanted to break down the kind of barriers that the teachers felt that they had.

"So we kind of asked (school officials), ‘Why aren’t you getting kids out there?’ (They said), ‘We don’t have a place to sit. We don’t have a place to stand. We don’t have a place to group.’ And so we thought, ‘Let’s accommodate that so we can get the teachers out here with the students.'"

Worthington Schools Superintendent Trent Bowers speaks during an opening ceremony Oct. 28 at the new outdoor-learning space in a 7-acre ravine behind Colonial Hills Elementary School at 5800 Greenwich St. The space includes seating areas, a demonstration table and a V-shaped awning over the main area that collects rainwater and allows the outdoor space to be used in all weather conditions. It also features a walking bridge over a creek and volunteer-maintained trails.

Superintendent Trent Bowers said the final space is more than what he envisioned when parents pitched him the project three years ago.

“This is a super cool example of a group of parents that came up with an idea, engaged our staff and then went out and got the business support,” he said. “(These parents) really built this and put something together that our community will benefit from – certainly the kids at Colonial Hills will benefit from. Outdoor learning is part of what we want to do, but right now with this pandemic, it’s almost essential.” 

Colonial Hills Elementary School music teacher Gretchen Wessel leads a samba band in a performance during an opening ceremony Oct. 28 at the new outdoor-learning space in a 7-acre ravine behind the school at 5800 Greenwich St.

Colonial Hills students said they liked it, too. 

“It’s a fun area to go down and maybe hang out after school or do our schoolwork down there,” sixth-grader Addy Foust said. “It’s just a fun area to be in.”

“I think it’s really cool,” sixth-grader Dashel Robertson said. “It’s a good space to hang out in after school and, also, if we need to go outside and get some fresh air, we can go out there.”

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve