English teacher Ken George creates an outdoor classroom

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English teacher Ken George has always wanted something that seemed unrealistic– an outdoor classroom. Dreaming and fantasizing like a child to be able to bring novels alive through nature just as Hemingway and Fitzgerald did.

“I feel like myself and other teachers are constantly trying to find ways to do things differently, just to keep kids engaged and interested,” George said. “And I feel like by having an outdoor classroom it really does achieve this, it brings different setting and gives teachers the ability to connect the concepts being learned with nature. ”

The administration helped ignite George’s dreams; through help and support, they made the simple idea of having an outdoor classroom into a reality.

“I love it,” principal Steve Passinault said. “Each year the Forest Hills Foundation does an event [called] the Gala; a lot of our benefactors and the people who support our school attend it. So, we submitted a new project, the outdoor classroom, and our supports liked it and allowed this to happen.”

Students were thrilled with the news as well. Seniors Ryan Korff, Zach Morton, David Kevic, all former students of George, volunteered to set up the benches for the classroom. The former students were in George’s class two years ago, and it came up in class that it’d be cool to do something outside. Finally, when it happened, George asked them if they’d like to put it together. They were more than happy to see their simple discussion come true.

“We figured why not? We’d love to help [George] out,” Ryan said. “It’s something we’ve always wanted to see and seeing it coming together is really amazing. There is a wide open area where a whole class can actually sit and do work. It provides a new environment and allows students to have a breath of fresh air, away from the typical classroom’s setting.”

George doesn’t just want this experience for his students, but for the whole school.

“We can use it like a lab, a teacher can sign out the space for the period they wish,” George said. “There are twelve benches, two students can sit on each. The teachers can then take their classes out there and enjoy the sunshine.”

The distraction of outdoors while being trapped indoors seems to be too powerful of an interruption of class time. As the Michigan winter leaves and is replaced with summer, the warmth of the heat is all that seems to be on the minds of students.

“It’s definitely distracting,” Zach said. “Just wanting to be outside and have a breath of fresh air.”

However, even with students being outdoors, it creates the worry of disturbance of learning.

“I think that yes, there can be some distractions involved,” Passinault said. “There will be always a worry of interpretation of a lesson, but our students and faculty– I think they trust each other enough to be able to spend time outside.”

The outdoor classroom is at a start, a start to new teaching approaches filled with the sun, flowers, and the great outdoors.  

“The district, administration, and teachers all support new and unique learning methods for the kids here, and I’m so thankful for that,” George said.

 

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