Preserving the Classroom

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Outdoor classes at CJ developed in the 1980’s when staff discovered a pond located behind the football field. They saw so much potential and opportunities available for students of all ages and wanted to turn it into an outdoor classroom.

In 2003, a tornado hit Carl Junction, Missouri, demolishing significant environments that taught students a little more about life.  

The outdoor classroom projects were dismissed due to the destruction of the school.  Reconstruction of the school was the staff’s number one priority.

Unfortunately, after reconstruction, the overgrowth of the pond area had made it unusable for students. In 2013, students began to assemble their plan to clean up the wreckage in order to bring back the outdoor classroom experience.

“There is so much potential in this area and there are so many things students could do that they would absolutely love!” Exclaimed CJ’s own science teacher, Mrs. Friel.

Last fall, the staff received a grant of $10,000 from the America’s Farmers Grow Rural Program (sponsored by the Monsanto Fund). National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society, the community, and many individual students pitched in to officially proceed to help with the pond. The cleanup took almost two years to finish, as most of it was decluttering debris and removing unnecessary trees. This year, the outdoor classrooms are up and running again.

Species, such as largemouth bass, bluegill and green sunfish were placed in the pond so students can create their own environmental projects and explore nature. Eventually, every biology class will have the opportunity to analyze the pond. There are so many new developments: a section was cleared to make-way for grassland habitats, new butterfly gardens and bird habitats were planted to attract native species, and a covered shelter building was added.

This winter, students have developed QR code signing to highlight native species and other important features in the area, which allows the classroom to function in the winter.

These areas are not only accessible to the school, but  is also open to the community. For example, the trails that were created are now connected to the Ruby Jack trails.

The junior high, art, and the elementary school use the pond as well for projects that revolve around the pond; the first and second grade use the pond for nature walks and scavenger walks.

“Our goal is to have K-12, every student, out there at least once a year doing something,” proclaimed Mrs. Friel.

Things such as butterfly projects in the intermediate are typically done within the classroom, but now they can experience things truly in nature rather than in a day-to-day classroom.

Even though the outdoor classrooms are up and running, there are still many goals for this new site in Carl Junction. There are plans to rejuvenate an older pond recently found. They are wanting to analyze the pond and make it deeper so the new outdoor pursuits class is able to perform activities like canoe safety without having to go to another site, saving time and money. This outdoor area has brought the school closer together, given the community better access to experience nature, and helped students enjoy learning.