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Cool Schools: Ute Meadows Elementary opens new outdoor classroom

The outdoor learning space was set up just in time for in-person learning.

LITTLETON, Colo. — Ute Meadows Elementary opened its new outdoor classroom just in time for a socially-distant school year.

The plan was put into motion two years ago when a group of parents formed the school’s Outdoor Classroom Committee to deal with a 4,000 square foot problem area between the school and the playground. 

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“This used to be just basically dirt and depending on the time of the year, it was very muddy,” said school principal Dawn Morgan. “They started a project basically to clean up the mud pit and it started to transform last year into an idea of this outdoor classroom which has been such a great fit for our current context.”

Credit: Ute Meadows Elementary

Ute Meadows Elementary is a Pre-K through grade five school with about 35O students and is part of the Jefferson County School District. 

According to the school, in 2019 over $35,000 was raised through Read-A-Thon, a special silent auction and brick sales which was almost half of the expected total project cost.

In March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the school knew that rather than waiting for complete funding, now would be the time to have an outdoor learning space for students. 

Credit: Byron Reed

“We have both in-person and remote learners,” Morgan said. “Probably about one-third of our students are learning remotely right now and the rest are here inside our building.”

“We have to wear masks a lot,” said fifth grader Jaxon Wells. “(So) it’s really fun to go out there because you get to take off your mask and you get to be out here and get to breath fresh air.”

Credit: Byron Reed

The outdoor space includes a 26 by 26 foot shade structure and 18 by 18 inch pavers spaced six feet apart for student seating. The learning area gives students mask breaks and more opportunities for social distancing which increases students' mental and emotional well-being.

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“It allows students to interact with their environment and bring learning outside of our building walls,” Morgan said. 

“It’s my favorite thing to do at school,” added second-grader Juliet Grommeck. “It’s really fun because you get mask breaks and you also get to write and just be outside while you’re working.”

According to the school, the shade structure is phase one. They are planning to expand the outdoor space to include benches, picnic tables, a sculpture garden, additional shrubs and flowers, and an engraved brick centerpiece.

Credit: Byron Reed

“My hope is that we use this COVID context to continue to innovate what education looks like for students,” Morgan said. 

She believes it’s an addition that wouldn’t be possible without a community that had enough vision to turn an idea into a timely reality for their students.  

Credit: Byron Reed

“Even though there are some difficulties that come with the current constraints, it really is an opportunity for us, for our teachers, for our students and community to think differently about what learning looks like, what we can get out of learning and how we can enhance student learning.”

For more information about the school and its outdoor learning click here.

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