Students will play interactive role in model outdoor community

by Wendy Turrell

GAR Foundation recently awarded Richfield Elementary School a $10,000 grant to create a model of the Revere community on the school property. The interactive Community in Our Backyard would feature businesses and other unique features of the real-life Revere community.

First-grade teacher Debbie Schwertner, along with a team of teachers, professionals and support staff from the school, applied for the grant because they saw a need for more kinesthetic learning opportunities due to the toll the pandemic has taken on children’s social interactions. They felt kids would benefit if hands-on activities were incorporated into the curriculum, and being outdoors would add a COVID-comfort factor.

“The idea of creating a student-sized community map with miniature buildings … would allow our staff to create lessons where our students could explore their social studies standards with a unique real-world connection,” she said.

Schwertner said the goal is to create a kid friendly interactive map with representation from all of the important staples of the Revere community such as a landmark mound representing Richfield as the highest point in Summit County.

She added, “We can use the backyard community for social studies, science, and social emotional learning, which allows students of all abilities to participate in the creation and use of our backyard community.”

Some of the practical social studies lessons that could be taught in the model community include learning cardinal directions within the interactive map, map reading skills, and economics lessons for grades K-2. The buildings will be moveable, so there can be a different set-up each year to provide new learning opportunities.

Richfield School Principal Anthony Stretar said the plan is for businesses to underwrite the cost of their model building with a donation. Schwertner said nine community businesses have been contacted so far, and some have already given verbal commitments for the $1,000 pledge to add their business to the Community In Our Backyard.

The model community will involve students at all levels, from Richfield Elementary to the Cuyahoga Valley Career Center and the Northeast Ohio Carpenters’ Training Center in Richfield.

Because the Revere School District has a unique makeup, Schwertner said the project would begin by inviting public officials of Bath and Richfield to talk to the elementary students about the concept of what makes a community.

The next step will be up to the students. “We would like students to take ownership of our backyard community by voting on places [to be included in the model],” Schwertner explained.

The top three buildings by popular vote will be chosen for the initial project. Cuyahoga Valley Career Center students in the architectural design program will develop the building plans, and will coach the elementary students on graphic imaging. Finally, students from the carpenters’ training center will build the structures. Richfield students will observe the construction and help paint the finished buildings.

Schwertner sees many advantages to this process. “Traditionally, within the Revere School District, students are very college-driven. By incorporating both the CVCC and the Northeast Ohio Carpenters’ Training Center, we are exposing our students to alternative post-secondary options. The trades are so important, and our students will be exposed to trade careers during the planning process, design and construction of the Community In Our Backyard,” she said.

Schwertner said the project would provide active ownership for the students. “We believe that children learn best when they are using hands-on materials. … We want to instill in our students that their voices matter. This community map will allow students to be active participants and to watch their ideas come to life.”

The GAR Foundation’s Educator Initiative Grant program, which supports teacher-initiated classroom-based projects, is providing the $10,000 grant.

Stretar emphasized that the Community in Our Backyard model project is separate from the two-year planning and fundraising effort taking place to update all of the Revere district playgrounds. ∞

Photo: A model Revere community might be built in this courtyard space at Richfield Elementary School. The staff that collaborated to apply for a grant to build the model included (l-r) Principal Anthony Stretar, school secretary Lori Head, first grade teacher Debbie Schwertner, first grade teacher Shannon Kahoe, second grade teacher Samer Rinehart, school counselor Michelle Pruchnicki, kindergarten teacher Emma Imrie, and first grade teacher Jade Vianueva.  Photo by W. Turrell.