Bath Elementary outdoor land lab continues to grow

by Wendy Turrell

Bath Elementary School curriculum had incorporated real-world learning in its land lab for over 20 years, but while the new school was being built, nature quickly took over its trails and outdoor classroom. Principal Dan Fry said when the new school was completed, “We started to plan with our Bath PTA to bring this space back to life.”

Bath PTA President Kelley Brubaker explained, “The school’s budget included funds to restore the space, but it was not enough to make their full vision a reality. So, the PTA was more than happy to co-fund the pavilion being built and purchase a variety of furniture for the space.”

Brubaker said the Bath PTA raised the funds through its annual fall magazine and cookie dough fundraiser and co-hosting a “Night at the Races” event in the spring with the Richfield Elementary PTA.

Students in the third through fifth grades will use the land lab for integrating science curriculum study. “As we began to plan, the project continued to grow and expand and now utilizes all of our wooded property,” Fry said.

With PTA fundraising proceeds and district resources, the school was able to add The Rich Booth Outdoor Classroom pavilion and new trails throughout the school’s wooded property.

Booth was a beloved third grade teacher, who passed away just before the current school year began. Fry described him as a “tremendous teacher and an even better person,” who believed students should experience and explore science instead of just reading about it. He said Booth’s philosophy was embodied in the idea that “not all classrooms have four walls.”

Fry said other improvements included limestone paths to replace the original dirt paths, and benches and bleachers in five new outdoor learning spaces. The last two trails were just completed, and at the time of this article writing, furniture for the new spaces was forthcoming.

Bath art teacher Amy Koch applied for a GAR grant to obtain funding for the Learning Space Garden, which will be built in front of the Lab. There, students will plant and care for a variety of vegetation. Fry added, “One of our fourth-grade teachers, Ms. George, has given her class the responsibility of filling the many bird feeders throughout the Lab.”

Fry said, “Once the plans for the space started to come together, we had many ideas for next steps. Additional grants are currently being written for curriculum display boards … and for an outdoor ‘literature circle’ that utilizes hammocks hanging in the trees. It’s exciting to hear our teachers as they brainstorm and plan for utilizing this space.”

Beyond the benefits of real-world science application, Fry sees many more advantages to learning in the outdoors: “We also know that being in nature brings a feeling of relaxation and stress reduction. Our kids have experienced a great deal of anxiety over these past few years as they have navigated the stressors of the pandemic. … The Land Lab will do wonders for our social and emotional learning as well as our academic learning.” ∞