by Mike Knaak
When seventh- and eighth- graders in Sartell Middle School’s What I Need classes head off to high school, they’ll leave behind a lasting contribution to their school.
This fall the classes built and installed 23 benches at two outdoor learning spaces overlooking a pond west of the school.
“We are lucky to have a beautiful forest,” said teacher Luke Miller about the forest and wetlands between Riverview Intermediate School, the middle school and Pine Meadow Primary School.
On a recent fall afternoon, students gathered shovels, power screw drivers and levels. They split into teams of four or five students and worked on a sloped clearing near the pond to place and level the benches and pour fast-setting concrete into pre-dug holes.
The quick teamwork was made possible because Miller said the class “pre-gamed” in the classroom what they would do in the 30 minutes available to work outside.
“We discussed elevation and slope, taught how to level,” Miller said.
While Miller called out how much time the class had left to work, the students hustled through the project.
Earlier this fall, students picked the location and undergrowth was cleared. Riverview teacher Christopher Magnuson designed the benches for the students to build.
Miller said there are several lessons for his students. The project “builds school pride and culture, and invests in some things students will use.” The practical lessons include real-world skills students can use in the future and how to work together to achieve a goal.
All the middle school students will benefit by moving classes outdoors or maybe read a book or do homework in a beautiful location.
There are more plans for the outdoor classrooms. Miller is applying for grants to add a dock that will be useful for science experiments and for kayaks. In the spring, plans call for a third location to be completed. The future could bring more environmental enhancements such as wood duck houses and nesting pads.
“We are very lucky to have that space,” Miller said.