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Sunday, May 26 News

Kent opens new outdoor classroom

KENT — Students can now get a break from the classroom with a new outdoor space at Kent Center School.

The greenspace is designed to offer a place for classes to hold review sessions, discussions, independent reading or a quiet place for students to go during recess.

“When we were kids, we were outside all of the time,” said Josh Szwed, a science teacher at the school involved with the project. “Now it’s harder to get the kids outside and unplugged.”

Uses for the space, which is covered by mulch and has a pergola and nine benches, will continue to develop based on the teachers’ creativity.

Szwed said it’s a great way to get students passionate about nature, which they will carry through their lives. He said studies have shown that having outdoor breaks help students physically and mentally, helping them focus better when they go back in the classroom.

Several students said the outdoor classroom relieves stress before and after tests.

The Kent Center School Schoolyard Habitat Committee began working on the space in 2014, adding bird feeders and plants. Committee members decided to expand the idea to a full outdoor classroom after meeting with the Audubon Society and attending a conference where the idea of an outdoor classroom was presented.

Szwed said the area wasn’t being used and was an ideal spot because it was flat with great vistas.

The classroom officially opened Thursday, though the majority of the students have already used it.

Students have also had a hand in its creation. More than half of them planted and the majority supported the fundraisers by buying baked goods and contributing to the penny wars. Several students also serve on the committee.

Ashley and Brennan Wilkins, siblings at the school, said they decided to join the committee and get more involved after they saw the construction starting last year. They said they love nature and wanted to support a way to spend more time outdoors.

“It’s nice that we’re able to go outside and be in nature,” said Ashley Wilkins, a sixth grader.

Aiden Scherniske, a seventh grader on the committee, agreed.

“It’s very peaceful,” he said, adding his favorite part is being near the plants, which he helped his father plant. His father works at Kent Greenhouse, one of the local businesses that donated to the classroom.

Szwed said the students, parents, school staff, businesses, civic groups and school board have all helped. Items were donated and about $2,000 was collected during fundraisers.

“It’s really been a community effort,” he said.

This is the first outdoor classroom in Region 1, but the students expect it to not be the last.

“We’ll probably inspire a lot of other schools to do it,” Brennan Wilkins said.

Katrina Koerting|Reporter