Consolidated School Unveils New Outdoor Classroom

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Brothers Nick and Tim Burgess show off their favorite spots during the opening of the outdoor classroom at Consolidated School.
Laura Dolce
June 10, 2010

KENNEBUNKPORT — While Kermit the Frog said “it’s not easy being green,” the students, staff and supporters at Consolidated Elementary School made it look that way June 2 when they showed off their new outdoor classroom.

A labor of love involving donations from numerous businesses and residents, the outdoor classroom grew out of the school’s “go green” efforts that have included recycling initiatives, solar panels and working with the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, said teacher Nancy Naimey.

The classroom, said parent Pam Morgan, is part of the effort not to dwell on the downside of the green movement — the thinning ozone, the BP oil spill and the like — but the hopeful and optimistic part.

In addition, she said, it is meant to provide a safe place where children can spend more time outdoors.

While many children are used to video games and computer programs, most “cannot tell you which trees are growing in their own back yard,” Morgan said.

Morgan said studies have shown students who use outdoor classrooms have made significant gains in social studies, science and math and that they show a 27-percent increase in science test scores. In addition, studies have shown that use of outdoor space can significantly reduce the symptoms of attention deficit disorders in children as young as age 5.

All those facts aside, the students know what they like. As speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of the space, the children began to move forward off the chairs set up for the opening and perch on the rocks and kneel on the stones of the outdoor classroom.

The classroom itself is constructed of geometrically placed wood beams supporting a “living roof” covered in native Maine plants. Large stones provide seating around the perimeter, which is ringed by more young plants. At the heart of the classroom is a lobster constructed out of individual flat stones. Set into the floor at the center of the space, the lobster is already popular with the students.

“I like to read out here — I sit on the tail,” said Tim Burgess, 8. “Some days are really sunny and it’s good to be outside and reading.”

Twin brother Nick said he particularly likes the garden.

“I like to look at all the plants,” he said.

Teacher Jen Humphrey, who helped oversee the planting, said she hopes people will come to visit the classroom, which is dedicated to retiring Principal Kathy Pence, as time goes by.

“Do come back and visit as things mature and grow,” Humphrey said, “including our kids.”