Thanks to innovation and hard work from Prince William County Schools (PWCS) and local Boy Scouts, the school system will now have three outdoor classrooms.
According to a release, student volunteers built three outdoor classrooms on the site of Colgan High School, which students at Coles Elementary, Benton Middle, and the high school will be able to use for science instruction, starting this fall.
“This project was made possible by Prince William County Schools, the Prince William County’s Solid Waste Division, the Parks Department, Dominion Power, and Boy Scout Troop 1195,” stated a release.
The three outdoor classrooms are located along the new “Outdoor Discovery Trail” which is a trail that connects the three schools, stated a release. These classrooms have benches for lectures and discussions, tables for group experiments, blackboards, and all of the necessary supplies they’ll need for outdoor science instruction, according to a release.
According to a release, the idea for the project began when the Solid Waste Citizens Advisory Group stated that they wanted to do something to support the county in the area of environmental education. The Solid Waste Division then approached PWCS.
The idea for the project began when the Solid Waste Citizens Advisory Group expressed interest in supporting environmental education in the County. The management staff of the Solid Waste Division approached Greene at the Office of Student Learning to get started.
Three Eagle Scout candidates – Joshua Jerack, Ryan Marks, and Joe Duncan, took the lead on building the structures, according to a release.
“Nowadays, a lot of kids spend too much time on their phones and are spending more time indoors than outdoors. The classrooms give them an opportunity they wouldn’t normally have in school,” stated Jerack in a release.
Prince William County school teacher Joy Greene spoke about the merits of having these classroom spaces.
“Being in an outdoor classroom means students can actually conduct field investigations and collect data on habitats and organisms. There are so many opportunities for authentic learning experiences that the outdoor classrooms will provide,” stated Greene in a release.
More on the project, from a release:
The project didn’t come without challenges. On top of managing an Eagle project along with school work, the weather had a few surprises for Jerack. On his first work day heavy rain made it impossible for the handicapped accessible van to get him safely to the site. Calls were made throughout the community and a friend at the fire department was able to send a Bobcat vehicle to drive Jerack. Despite the delay, Jerack was able to keep everyone on track to meet deadlines.
“The project taught me a lot about leadership and how to build a team that will support one another,” says Jerack, “Both my father and grandfather were Eagle Scouts so this is an important moment for me and my family.”
In more ways than one this project was a true community effort. Teachers spent time advising the Boy Scouts on what they would like to see in the classrooms. Tom Smith, Solid Waste Division Chief, coordinated the effort to design the trail through the landfill buffer and the Parks Department cleared the trails. On the largest community workday, 40 volunteers from Dominion Power arrived to install 75 educational signs throughout the trail as well to construct storage sheds for science equipment and kiosks.
The classrooms are one piece of a larger movement in Prince William towards community building around environmental education, with the forthcoming Eco Park Complex. The 1000 acres Eco Park Complex encompasses an award-winning landfill, athletic fields, Outdoor Discovery Trails, wetlands, streams, gas collection and energy production and a recycling facility. Future projects include solar power, wind energy and solid waste conversion demonstrations and a net zero energy Education Center that will empower students to solve today’s environmental challenges through hands-on activities and STEM investigations.
The mission of the Eco Park is to increase awareness of the various ways the landfill is transforming into an asset for the community, inspiring visitors, both casual and professional, to rethink waste solutions and their environmental impacts.
A ribbon cutting ceremony for the classrooms will be held on October 20 at 3 p.m. at the Colgan High School outdoor amphitheater, according to a release.