On Wednesday, June 1, the students and teachers at Bucksport Middle School (BMS) celebrated a big achievement. Since August 2021, students have been prototyping, designing, and constructing elements of an outdoor experiential learning environment through team building and design thinking challenges. And now, after almost a year, their new outdoor classroom, which was made possible by a three-year $130,000 federal innovation grant, has been brought to life.
Art and STARS Teacher Hannah Bailey, Science and STARS Teacher Kent Burnham, and Special Education and STARS Teacher Katie True have been working to serve alternative education 6-8th grade students by facilitating as they built this new outdoor classroom. STARS (Students Taking Alternate Routes to Success) is an experiential advisory program that started in the summer of 2021. STARS aims to support students through hands-on learning, including designing and building a home base, while focusing on connecting student interests with community resources and providing extra opportunities to reconnect with each other, with their teachers, and with school.
To start this project, students took a trip to Troy Howard Middle School to check out their outdoor classroom, outdoor kitchen, and garden to gain some inspiration. While the students were there, they drew pictures of Troy Howard’s facilities, to take back as blueprints for the models they were about to make. Next, Hammond Lumber supplied a model of the outdoor classroom, which students used in conjunction with their drawings to create prototypes out of cardboards. Once the prototypes were finished and refined, students met with Orcutt Builders, Hammond Lumber, and the RSU 25 maintenance crew to review and finalize their plans.
As Orcutt Builders got to work on constructing the exterior of the classroom, BMS STARS students got to work designing the interior of their classroom. Their first task was to create chairs that could hold their weight out of cardboard. Next, they started doing skill building to learn how to use their new tools by constructing birdhouses. Once the birdhouses were completed, students learned how to construct tables and chairs from a furniture maker and, using feedback from teachers, began to prototype their own. As Orcutt Builders began to put the exterior of the building up in early October, students learned how to wood burn, creating signage for their soon-to-be hub.
As the classroom began to take shape, students began to assist in its construction, helping to build the knee walls and even painting it the light blue color they had voted on. Then, as Orcutt Builders finished up the construction of the exterior of the classroom, students turned the prototypes of their tables into reality – constructing, sanding, and painting them themselves. In addition to an outdoor classroom aimed to engage increased school attendance and hands-on learning, the students have also built 12 benches and 6 tables for the classroom and are currently in the process of building 12 garden boxes to have outside of the classroom to grow their own flowers and vegetables.
The STARS students say they enjoyed the entire process and are excited for next year. One student shared that she had fun this school year. While she loved getting to put her hands in the wet cement of the classroom and growing closer to her classmates, her favorite part of the classroom is the garden boxes. Another student said his favorite part was getting to meet and interact with different teachers, students, and experts.
The school also plans to construct an applied learning laboratory next to the outdoor classroom, set to open in June 2023. The space will include a 4-season greenhouse, kitchen, makerspace, and aquaponics system, among other features, and is being funded through a $250,000 federal grant through the Maine Department of Education’s Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures program.