Kenilworth Elementary School students won’t have to gaze outside during class as much since for a portion of their day they’ll be taking the classroom outdoors in a first of its kind program in Prince George’s County.
The outdoor classroom features a garden-like area, with no walls or roof or chairs, has a rain barrel, native plants sprouting from colorful pots and mulch spread over the ground where students can sit.
The Bowie school’s 332 students will all be coming to the classroom to learn every subject from music to math, said Kenilworth Elementary’s principal Rodney Henderson.
“It allows students to take what they learn conceptually in the classroom and bring it outside and see it,” Henderson said. For example, when students learn about butterfly life cycles in science class, they will now have a better opportunity to see actual butterflies in the outdoor classroom.
“I like it. I like butterflies,” said first-grader Makenzie Gilliard, 6, of Bowie, one of several students who wore sparkly butterfly wings to the Friday ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by school staff, community and county leaders, including school CEO Kevin Maxwell and Bowie Mayor G. Frederick Robinson.
“The three most important things in Bowie are education, education and education,” Robinson said.
Maxwell said the new classroom is a perfect way to raise environmental awareness among students, which benefits everyone when more people care about a community’s beauty and health.
“Nothing is going to help us as much as educating our children on what they need to do,” Maxwell said.
Bowie resident Morse Hall, 41, who has a daughter in second grade at Kenilworth Elementary, said his family recycles and plants native species, and he is glad his daughter can now do the same at school.
“I’m standing here thinking right now, ‘What do I have and how can I help?’” Hall said.
The classroom cost $6,200 to build and was fully funded by the school’s parent-teacher association, said PTA Vice President Christina Bayes, who came up with the idea a year ago.
The PTA combined money they’d raised through fundraisers last school year, like November’s plant sale, with the money in its savings account to pay for landscape designers to build the classroom, Bayes said.
Focus now turns to maintaining the outdoor classroom by securing equipment including gardening tools, butterfly houses and seed, said PTA President Tara Adams.
To offset costs, the PTA has submitted an application for a grant through the Chesapeake Bay Trust, a nonprofit grant-making organization based in Annapolis, Adams said.
Kristin Foringer, a representative from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, spoke at the ribbon-cutting event, saying projects like this are what the organization strives to help.
“We want to see kids outside,” Foringer said.
Besides money, the classroom also needs manpower. Adams said she lives near the school and her husband regularly cuts the grass around the outdoor classroom and pulls weeds.
“There’s definitely a community involvement,” Adams said, “I just can’t wait to see where it’s going to go.”