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Collaboration and Connections: Alabama Students Get Outdoors

Arley, Alabama

December 02, 2015

The Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Alabama Outdoor Classroom (AOC) program provides technical assistance and support to educators, administrators, students, and community volunteers who wish to create sustainable wildlife habitats and effective outdoor classroom sites on their school grounds.

To participate in the AOC program, a school must enroll in the program and follow the steps discussed in the Outdoor Classroom Planning Guide throughout the development, certification and use of their outdoor classroom site. Meek Elementary School is one of numerous Alabama schools to take advantage of this program, and the Rural Schools Collaborative is pleased to have supported their effort through our Grants in Place program.

Located in the small town of Arley (pop. 321) , Meek Elementary School teachers face the same fundamental challenge as teachers everywhere—how to connect students better to real world concepts that are being taught in the classroom.

“Developing our outdoor classroom has been a very important project for us,” said Debra Johnson, a 5th grade teacher at Meek and Grants in Place recipient. “Some fifth graders get bored stiff sitting in a classroom chair everyday. Getting these students outside really helps making the connection to what we are trying to teach in the classroom.” She added, “You can just see them become more alert, awake, and interested.”

Johnson added: “Since we have completed the outdoor classroom, we have conducted several science investigation outdoors in that environment. It really makes a big difference in the students’ responses!”

For all of the value an outdoor classroom adds to the educational experience, many schools have to cobble together resources to get one built. “Our outdoor classroom has been a community effort,” touted Johnson. “It involved our students, town volunteers, outside donations, and, of course, the Alabama Wildlife Federation was very helpful! They provide grants, workshops, and a certification program.” Johnson also appreciated the support of the Rural Schools Collaborative. “It was wonderful that your board of directors would consider a project down here in Alabama. I want to thank Larry Lee (Montgomery public education advocate) for bringing this to our attention.”

Although Meek Elementary School, like so many other rural schools, has its share of funding hurdles, Johnson is quick to point out what a wonderful learning environment the school offers. “Both of my children went to Meek,” she said. “Truthfully, I wouldn’t trade their experiences for anywhere else. They really got a good education in a supportive environment, and they, like so many other children from the Arley area, have gone on to do very well.”

Click here for more information on the Rural Schools Collaborative’s inaugural Grants in Place program. Meek received a $943 grant award through the effort, which, once again, clearly illustrates the big impact that small grants can make in rural places.

The Rural Schools Collaborative was launched in the spring of 2015. The organization is currently engaged in nine states and has a small administrative office in Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Debra Johnson accepts Grants in Place poster award from Alabama author and Rural Schools Collaborative advocate, Larry Lee.


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