Outdoor classrooms give students options at Suntree Elementary

A new outdoor classroom will be popular at Suntree Elementary School.

Donors and volunteers are helping to make outdoor classrooms a reality at Suntree Elementary School.

The first two of these classrooms have been completed and will be ready for use whenever students begin in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year, according to school principal Shari Tressler. It features four picnic tables with umbrellas to provide students with ample amounts of shade along with trash receptacles and mulch. 

"They can use the classroom from day one," Tressler said. "We can get a whole class out here, a set of 18 kids for learning outside, just to have something different other than being inside the classroom. They can interact with nature, with the environment. We have a beautiful campus."

The first outdoor classroom was made possible thanks to donations from Tessa and Raoul Cleveland of Gen-X Motors in Melbourne and from Marta and Bill Griffith. 

"I’m really excited, especially for my daughter to be able to have another resource, to learn and get fresh air. And, just maybe get away from any stressors that school may be causing and see the butterflies and feel the breeze," Tessa Cleveland said. "It’s just really important for us to get outside and interact. I mean, we live in a beautiful state where it’s always sunny and happy and fresh air. It’s just like, what could be better than that? I don’t know."

Another parent, Aran Hissam, who has had children at the school for nine years, echoed Cleveland’s excitement for the project.

"I think all children are always trying to find alternative ways of learning and this is just offering them another way," Hissam said. "We know, especially in the elementary school level, the more children are up and about and changing environments that their learning is increased and enhanced and it offers different opportunities for them. So, the fact that they have this opportunity here at Suntree Elementary School just excites a lot of us."

Though the classrooms have obvious benefits relative to the circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak, the outdoor plans had been in the works long before the pandemic. 

"Ten years ago at Suntree, we starting learning gardens and different grade levels arranged an area to plant. And, the children do the planning. Sometimes with volunteers or big and little buddies. We wanted to extend that to outdoors classrooms so instruction could take place also," said Marta Griffith, a kindergarten teacher who has been at the school for 18 years.

Hissam said they hope to raise enough funds to build at least two more outdoor classrooms. It takes about five days for a good crew to build one. 

Those interested in donating to the project can do so through the Suntree Elementary School Outdoor Classrooms GoFundMe page and those interested in donating supplies can contact Hissam at aranhissam@yahoo.com.