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Take It Outside

By linking outdoor classrooms with school gardens, educators and students expand curricular opportunities.

Thanks to collaborative efforts being made by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the DC Department of General Services (DGS), and Sustainable DC, 2016 will see the implementation of outdoor classrooms at Hardy Middle School, Tubman Elementary School and Leckie Elementary School. Each will support environmental and health education for users of all ages—from, pre-K to adult—with hands-on examples of renewable energy systems, storm-water management, native-species planting, nutrition and urban agriculture. 

Given the varying site elements and topography of the three schools, each classroom will require a slightly different design. Additionally, because they will be highly visible to their surrounding neighborhoods, their development will also include input from the broader school community.

“Two of the three outdoor classrooms will be accessible to the public during non-school hours and should, therefore, be theft and vandalism-resistant,” explained OSSE deputy chief of staff Jessie Harteis.

All three classrooms will be located in proximity to existing school garden beds and compost facilities, which means they will complement and expand the gardens. By providing a gathering area for teaching, the open-air classrooms support standards-based learning across subject areas. 

Garden elements might include a composting area, pollinator beds, a wildlife habitat area and a rain garden. An outdoor kitchen and a science lab are other features. Educational, age-appropriate, student-centered signage throughout the gardens will be used as teaching tools for outdoor classes—signs will identify and describe the various processes and systems at work in the gardens and surrounding environment. Each of the three gardens/classrooms will also capitalize on existing site features that offer educational opportunities, such as stream beds and natural habitat areas. 

Furthermore, the design of each will take into account environmental factors like noise, fumes from passing vehicles, sunlight and slope. Ideally, each school will have a well defined shaded space for student workstations, an outdoor whiteboard, fixed or flexible seating and a large demonstration table.

“We expect the classrooms to provide a flexible outdoor space with artful, educational features to accommodate classes of the core academic disciplines, and to host activities ranging from basic garden food preparation to group reading to science experiments,” said Harteis.

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