Bucksport students design their own outdoor classroom

On Wednesday, June 1, students and teachers at Bucksport Middle School (BMS) celebrated a major achievement. Since August 2021, students have prototyped, designed, and built elements of an outdoor experiential learning environment through team-building and design-thinking challenges. And now, after almost a year, their new outdoor classroom, which was made possible by a three-year, $130,000 federal innovation grant, has seen the light of day.

STARS students cut the ribbon for their new outdoor classroom

STARS teachers in front of outdoor classroom

STARS teachers and BMS principal Todd West outside the outdoor classroom

Hannah Bailey, Art and STARS teacher, Kent Burnham, Science and STARS teacher, and Katie True, Special Education and STARS teacher, have worked to serve alternative education students in grades 6-8 by facilitating construction of this new outdoor classroom. STARS (Students Taking Alternate Routes to Success) is an experiential counseling program that began in the summer of 2021. STARS aims to support students through hands-on learning, including home base design and construction, while focusing on connecting students’ interests with community resources and providing additional opportunities to reconnect with each other, with their teachers, and with the school.

To start this project, students traveled to Troy Howard Middle School to check out their outdoor classroom, outdoor kitchen, and backyard for inspiration. While the students were there, they drew pictures of Troy Howard’s installations, to use as blueprints for the models they were about to make. Next, Hammond Lumber provided a model of the outdoor classroom, which the students used in conjunction with their drawings to create prototypes from cardboard. Once the prototypes were completed and refined, the students met with Orcutt Builders, Hammond Lumber and the RSU 25 maintenance team to review and finalize their plans.

While the builders at Orcutt got to work building the exterior of the classroom, the students at BMS STARS got to work designing the interior of their classroom. Their first task was to create chairs that could support their cardboard weight. Then they began to develop their skills to learn how to use their new tools by building birdhouses. After the birdhouses were completed, the students learned how to build tables and chairs from a furniture maker and, using teacher feedback, began creating their own prototypes. As Orcutt Builders began fitting out the exterior of the building in early October, the students learned how to burn wood, creating signage for their future hub.

As the classroom began to take shape, the students began to participate in its construction, helping build the knee walls and even painting it the light blue color they had voted on. Then, as Orcutt Builders completed construction from outside the classroom, the students brought their prototype tables to life by building, sanding and painting them themselves. In addition to an outdoor classroom aimed at increasing school attendance and hands-on learning, the students have also constructed 12 benches and 6 tables for the classroom and are currently in the process of constructing 12 garden boxes at have outside the classroom to grow. their own flowers and vegetables.

two students at a table with painted artwork on it

STARS Student Art Table

table with flags painted on it

STARS Student Social Studies Table

table with science painted on it

STARS Student Science Table

table with math painted on it

STARS Student Math Table

table with painted books on it

STARS Student English and Language Arts Table

STARS students say they enjoyed the whole process and are excited for next year. A student shared that she had fun this school year. While she loved putting her hands in the damp cement of the classroom and getting close to her classmates, her favorite part of the classroom is the planters. Another student said his favorite part was meeting and interacting with different teachers, students and experts.

The school also plans to build an applied learning lab next to the outdoor classroom, which is slated to open in June 2023. The space will include a 4-season greenhouse, kitchen, maker space and an aquaponics system, among other features, and is funded by a $250,000 federal grant through the Maine Department of Education’s Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures program.

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Abdul J. Gaspar