SPOTSWOOD, NJ - Who didn't want to head outside for class on a beautiful day growing up? Pretty much every student including teachers would love to take advantage of gorgeous weather and hold class outside. Now the Spotswood School District's Memorial Middle School students have the opportunity thanks to a makeover to the facility's courtyard.
The outdoor courtyard in the middle of the building came to be following a 2004 expansion. However, the space was not utilized until paraprofessional Kelly Bella and Memorial nurse Katherine Shkolar began researching the benefits of holding class outside. The pair found that teaching students outdoors actually helps improve test scores, grade point averages, behavior and distractibility. After discussing the courtyard's potential as an outdoor classroom with Memorial Middle School Principal Brian Kitchin, Bella and Shkolar reached out to the Spotswood Education Foundation. Thanks to a grant for the SEF, the courtyard space received a transformation and the sixth through eighth grade students get an outdoor classroom.
The Spotswood Education Foundation is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to fund creative and innovative projects to benefit the Spotswood School District by complementing the existing curriculum and educational programs. Volunteers make up the board of the Spotswood Education Foundation and the finances for grants is made possible through fundraising endeavors. Since 2006, the Spotswood Education Foundation has awarded 167 grants totaling more than $100,000.
In addition to the more than $11,000 grant to revamp the courtyard, the school did some fundraising on their own including a three on three basketball tournament organized by Kitchin. In August, Fiorello Landscaping was hired. It took six days to turn the empty space into a welcoming outdoor learning environment. The Spotswood PTA donated tables and benches and staff members contributed to the outside classroom by donating whiteboards along with additional benches and tables. Many hands volunteered their time to clean, stain and refinish the pieces to allow for two separate spaces where students and teachers can work. Forello Landscaping donated six golden euonymus shrubs to make the transformation a true community endeavor.
On October 21 a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to officially open the SEF Outdoor Learning Environment. The ceremony was attended by Spotswood School District Superintendent Graham Peabody, Spotswood Education Foundation President Nick Legakis, Spotswood Board of Education members and of course Memorial's staff and students. Memorial Class President Tyler Quesnel cut the ribbon.
"It has been amazing to see what very few can do to make positive changes within our school and within our community," Bella and Shkolar said.