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AMS outdoor classroom rooted in student creativity

Construction begins on the AMS outdoor classroom, expected to open in Fall 2023

By Jake Stoope, ACS Communications Intern

If you were to ask Sawyer Oselies in the 6th grade what he liked about middle school, you’d be hard pressed to hear many positives. Simply put, he hated it. “School was boring,” Sawyer said. “The only thing I liked about it was seeing my friends.” At the time, he thought of school in even starker terms: a prison with white walls. Little did he know, something as simple as a robotics club would change his entire perspective for years to come.

At the Arlington Middle robotics club, he and his friends were challenged to develop an idea that would improve the community. After some discussion and debate on different problems they saw in the community, Sawyer, his partner, Cooper Hawkins, and other students in the club landed on the same conclusion: let’s make school more fun.

For the group, the learning experience could be more engaging by having an outdoor learning space. Through their research, they discovered students, generally, pay more attention during outdoor learning since it tends to include interactive, hands-on activities. “I want future students at AMS to experience learning in a new way,” Cooper said. “I want them to see classrooms are important, but being outside and more hands on is very important too.”

The idea was there, but they had to put the plan in action. With their teacher at the time, they brought the outdoor classroom plan to the principal, Tabetha Banks, who was an immediate believer in the idea. Then came the big stage: presenting it to the ACS Board of Education, not just once but twice. Due to COVID-19, the project was delayed two years, requiring the group to market the idea to the board once more as 8th graders.

With clearance and funding secured, construction on the outdoor classroom began in September and is expected to open next school year. The learning space, located outside the cafeteria, will feature new tables and concrete seating, shaded awnings and elements to bolster curriculum, such as raised flowerbeds and planters and extra space for outdoor projects. The space will also feature safety and security upgrades, including ADA accessibility while being hidden from public view. In total, the project is budgeted to cost about $65,000.

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The outdoor classroom will be situated between the cafeteria and a main hallway,
helping to provide a secure place for students to learn

For Banks, she hopes other students will see the initiative Sawyer and Cooper took and chart paths of their own to find other ways to improve the community. “I listen to what you all say, and I do act on those things,” Banks said about the students’ plan. “This was completely student driven and student led, and because they were able to share with me the benefits of it, I took their idea and now it is coming into fruition.”

“I hope this encourages people to step up,” Cooper continued. “With us going to the school board and doing all of this, [I hope] it would encourage kids to believe that they can make their community better.”

Meanwhile, for Sawyer, his hope for other students is that they escape their daily routine and strive to do something more…sort of like he did way back in that 6th grade club. “You can make a difference and change how school is done for the better,” he said. “People want to do that, but they stay quiet. Seeing the finished product come together, it leaves me speechless.”

November 2021: Nearly two years after developing the idea, these students began to raise money for the outdoor classroom.
They also presented to the ACS Board of Education about the benefits of having an outdoor learning space.

By Jake Stoope, ACS Communications Intern