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Ribbon-cutting ceremony for Alexander outdoor classroom introduces a first for New York State

Yesterday was the official opening of Alexander Elementary School's outdoor classroom. Sixth-graders McKenna Moran and Nick Allen did the honors for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, with some assistance from preschool teacher Ellie Jinks.

Parents, kids and community members braved the autumn morning chill to attend the ceremony celebrating the opening of the very first certified outdoor classroom in Upstate NY.

McKenna and Nick were among the students who helped with this project last year as fifth-graders. They were honored student speakers at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, where each praised the outdoor classroom's merits from a student's perspective.

"(It's great that) instead of just staying inside all day and writing papers," McKenna said, "kids get to be outside doing hands-on things and still learn the same things they would be learning inside."

"I think it's a great addition to our school," Nick said when addressing the crowd. "We don't get to go outside very much. And like McKenna said, instead of just reading about nature in books, we get to go outside (and learn in a hands-on way). I want to thank all the donors (and everyone who helped out)."

Guest speaker Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer called Alexander's outdoor classroom "a shining example of what all of Genesee County, and really the rest of New York State, should do."

He also said that "our kids are in front of too many screens (TV screens, computers, iPods, etc.)," and that projects like this show dedication to "where education should be going -- into the future."

Alexander School Board Vice President Reed Pettys cited studies indicating that:

  • Most of today's children spend 90 percent of their time indoors;
  • Allergies and asthma have increased as kids have stayed indoors more often;
  • Kids who spend more time playing outdoors do better in school and have better motor skills (agility, etc);
  • Symptoms of conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are relieved by contact with nature.

"Our hope is that for many years and decades to come," Pettys said, "this outdoor classroom will give relief to many individuals."

More photos after the jump (click on the headline):

Jinks, who has taught in Alexander for 38 years, jumpstarted this project a little over a year ago.

She applied for and won a Pepsi Refresh grant, and with the help of teachers, school administrators, school board members, parents, community members and local businesses -- as well as the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation -- she was able to make her dream of an outdoor classroom a reality.

She drew her initial inspiration from something she learned as a student at SUNY Geneseo.

"I learned that unstructured play is good for the health and relationships of both children and adults."

Throughout the process, she was inspired by the generosity and support of the school and wider community via fundraisers, social media and a lot of hard work.

Alexander Central School District Superintendent Kathleen Maerten said she was "most proud of the fact that funding for this project came from grants, local businesses and community generosity. No district funds were used."

Maerten emphasized that there is still work to be done. The Outdoor Classroom Committee would like to eventually install a bike and walking path around the classroom, an amphitheater for performances and a greenhouse.

In addition to these, of course, is the challenge of routine maintenance.

"This is going to require a continued commitment from the school and the community," Maerten said.

More photos:

Kathy Busch, vice principal of the elementary school, contributed to the Fall "mood" by serving apple cider.

Patrick Kelly enjoyed the sandbox while his sisters tiptoed around the edge.

Billy Marchison, meanwhile, was rocking the "Wheeled Toy Area."

Businesses that have supported this project include the following:

Pepsi Corporation

Alexander Equipment

Attica Packaging Co.

Concreations, LLC

Eberhard Landscaping

Johnson's Nursery

Pudgie's Nursery

United Materials

Home Depot Foundation

A-1 Supply Co., LLC

Bernard Schmeider PE, LS

Conservation Connects

Frey Sand and Gravel

Merle Excavating

Springtyme Landscaping

Z & M Ag and Turf

Lowe's Foundation

Attica Hardware

Bonsal American

Dominick and Daughters

Iroquois Job Corps

Palmiter's Nursery

Thomson Rustic Furnishings

Previous coverage:

New classroom will give Alexander students a place to learn in the great outdoors

Alexander Elementary School holds open house for outdoor classroom

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