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Saturday, April 13, 2013

An outdoor classroom will enhance learning at Belvedere Elementary School

Stepping stones wind through Belvedere's new outdoor classroom.

Students, teachers, parents, and the community celebrated the completion of an outdoor classroom at Belvedere Elementary School April 12. The school’s courtyard has been transformed into a plaza with tables and chairs surrounded by trees and plantings.  

“Our goal is to extend academic learning to the outdoors,” said Principal Cecelia Vanderhye. The outdoor area is big enough to accommodate a whole class, allowing teachers to incorporate nature into lessons on science, math, English, and everything else. During the opening ceremony, children were fascinated by the appearance of a surprise visitor—a baby snake.

Principal Vanderhye speaks at the opening ceremony.

One area is designated as a “decomposition garden,” where students will be able to observe what happens to natural and man-made objects, like a shoe or a CD, when they’re left outside exposed to the elements. There will also be a rock garden and butterfly garden.

Developing the outdoor classroom “was a whole community effort,” said Vanderhye. Families and community members spent many weekends working on the project.

She singled out several people for special recognition, including Teacher Stacey Evers, who had the vision for an outdoor classroom and convinced an architect friend to design it, and parent Tara Rethorne, who spearheaded the whole project and coordinated the fundraising.

There are engraved bricks embedded in the plaza that parents, alumni, staff, and others purchased for $85 to $115 each. Some students contributed allowance money to help their classes purchase a brick. The school also sold mini-bricks that can be used as paperweights.

The project cost $14,000, and the Belvedere community contributed over $10,000. Bob’s Discount Furniture donated $1,500, and other contributions came from the Huntington Learning Center of Fairfax, Dominion Foundation, Sislers Stone, Classic Stonescaping & Gardens, and Earth Sangha

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