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Western Union Elementary debuts new outdoor classroom

Western Union Elementary Grow Grant On Thursday, Oct. 10 -- in front of cheering community members, community partners and students -- Western Union Elementary officially unveiled its new outdoor classroom. Funded in part by the Union County Education Foundation’s inaugural GROW grant, the expansive outdoor classroom included a butterfly garden, tree stump seating, garden beds, sound garden, sensory path and more.

It was a project that had been several months in the making, and one that far exceeded any of Western Union Elementary Principal Kristi Williford’s expectations when the school initially submitted the grant application.

At the time, Williford said she simply envisioned a space where students could participate in project-based learning lessons and strengthen engagement. Now, as she looked out at the students playing in the garden, it is clear that it is much more.

“Our students are learning about plants, weather, insects, erosion, sound, composting and water conservation. This is covering math, science, literacy and all kinds of content areas,” she said. “This is bringing what they’re learning to life. They’re not just reading about it, they’re experiencing it.”

As part of the unveiling, members of the school’s new garden club gave tours to parents, guests and community members. The students previously worked in the outdoor classroom for weeks and were eager to show off all of their hard work.

During her tour of the butterfly garden, fifth grader Delaney Davidson wasn’t interested in talking about the different content areas that an outdoor classroom supports. Instead, she was more excited to talk about how they were learning, how the garden can benefit all of the students at their school and why she’s excited to see it continue to grow.

“Some kids get bored in classrooms when they’re just sitting there. Now, we get to experience something new and different. If students get stressed, they can go to the sound garden or take a break in the sensory path,” she said. “Out here, we have to use our problem solving skills, we have to work together and we have to figure out the best way to do things.”

That, Williford said, is what she wants the students to ultimately take away from the garden.

“They’re working together and asking questions. They have to learn to fail and be okay with that. All of those underlying skills is what school is for,” she said. “Ultimately, what we want for our students is to think critically, solve problems and think outside of the box. Those are the life skills they’ll need and that’s exactly what they’re learning out here.”

Check out the photo gallery below to view pictures from the ribbon cutting and outdoor classroom. For more information about the Union County Education Foundation’s GROW grant, which provided $5,000 to the outdoor classroom project, click here.