If Fred Goins has his way, the next classroom at Carpenters Elementary School won’t be in the school building at all. The Carpenters principal wants to create an outdoor classroom on county property situated behind the school.
“We have 12 to 14 acres behind the school that has been designated wetlands by the state. It would be a good classroom,” Goins said.
Goins is dedicated to this project, but is determined that developing this Outdoor Classroom Project won’t take any money away from the school budget and “the children.” With state money that former Sen. Raymond Finney helped them get, an architecture plan has been designed for the project, and Goins is slowly working on making it a reality, one small step at a time. The price tag for the entire Outdoor Classroom Project, Goins said, is “approximately $250,000,” but donated materials, labor and expertise can lower the actual cash-money needed.
The veteran principal’s motive for the project is simple, he said. “This is for the children. If they don’t learn how to take care of their environment, who will?” he said. “I want kids out here in the environment. I want children to catch some frogs. I want them to get muddy.”
The area is already being used in a limited way because a trail has been cut through the woods that teachers can use to supplement their studies. The plan includes a wetlands area, a pavilion and two separate amphitheater classrooms, a dam and natural pond, as the area already has a creek running along the back of it. Boardwalks laid on the ground would span two sections. Two motion-activated cameras already capture images of deer and other animals walking around the path. There would be an uplands meadow for students to study, and there would be a bridge over a portion of a creek that runs through the property to Tellico Lake.
The pathway through the woods is a preliminary trail. “This is a long-term project but the kids can use it now,” said Goins. “The ultimate goal would be to have our students teach other students and adults about the area and what they learn there. With the middle school right across the street and the possibility of a high school out here, the uses are endless.”
Goins has already solicited and gotten great help from Billy Mincer with the University of Tennessee and Erich Henry with Blount County Soil Conservation, and he praised them for their continued efforts on the project. Goins has enthusiastic help from Carpenters Elementary teachers as well. Teacher Sharon Clark, who Goins has nicknamed the school’s botanist and resident “crawdadoligist,” said students have already brought a praying mantis and tree frogs back from the woods to study in the classroom. “Kids have never had that experience,” she said. “They’re so excited. It’s like a new world. Their parents don’t have time to interact with them outdoors. They don’t get that interaction, and it is so important.”
Teacher Adrian Rogers, Goins said, is the school’s “naturalist,” and she shared her passion for helping children to experience the outdoors. “We’ve got a deficit with children and nature,” she said. “They’re hungry for it.”
Rogers shared how a student found a rhinoceros beetle, and she was able to lead the class in a quick lesson about the beetle and its environment before releasing it. As a teacher, she said the lesson was rewarding because it was so obvious that the students were grasping the concepts the teachers were explaing.
“They love it,” she said of being outdoors and interacting with nature. “They absolutely love it.”