Arlington’s Pioneer Elementary students are helping to repair a wetland near to the school that many teachers are now using as a classroom.
The nearby wetland has always been a resource for the school.
“The outdoor classroom and wetland area has been something we’ve had since the school was built and over the years different groups have taken interest in helping with various projects,” said Rebecca Rodriguez, a third-grade teacher at Pioneer Elementary.
Coming into this school year there was a renewed interest in teaching outside.
“What we really found is when we went to distance learning last spring, our principal and the school district asked us to think about professional development,” said Rodriguez.
School staff did a book study group on a book about the importance of getting kids outdoors for the learning environment.
As students returned to school earlier this year, more classes are going out to the space than ever.
“I’ve been so excited with how many classes that are getting out there,” said Rodriguez. “The ideas are just kind of multiplying on what we can use the space for."
Sometimes students are working to improve the environment of the wetlands, she said.
“They’re working on restoring the area,” said Rodriguez. “It was neglected during that whole time we were out."
Fifth-grade teacher Stephanie Howe said having such a vibrant ecosystem to visit is useful for teaching science concepts.
“Currently we’re learning about biomes and food chains,” she said. “Instead of just sitting and reading about it in a book they’re seeing it in real life and making connections."
Even when not learning about science, students are often excited to get outside, said Rodriguez.
“Some students, they struggle inside the classroom to stay still and pay attention all the time,” she said.
Rodriguez added she has brought her students out for math lessons.
“They were doing math problems, but just by putting it in a different context, they get excited,” she said.
Howe said during one occasion a student saw deer tracks and knew from hunting what they were.
“Everyone crowded around him and listened, he was the expert,” she said. “He was doing all this inferencing without realizing it."
Getting students outside gives them a closer experience with nature and the environment.
“It’s amazing to me to see kids in Washington who don’t play outside very often,” said Rodriguez. “Just to foster that, is something I’m super passionate about."
She said some students begin to go outside and they are scared of the insects, but they get used to nature as they experience it.
“I had one kiddo who, through the course of the year, became more and more comfortable with being outside,” said Rodriguez.
Howe’s class is also beginning a project where they are making interpretive trail signs for the wetlands area, which will help explain some of the local environment there.
“They’re learning informational writing, researching skills, and working as a group,” said Howe. “The kids are becoming the experts, and they’re also leaving behind a legacy for the other students."
Currently, students are working in a kid-friendly design program to build their signs and she hopes to be able to create “professional” looking signs that will stand the test of time, although Howe said she is still looking at how best to do that affordably.
Every Wednesday staff and teachers have also been going out to help improve the area for students.
“One dedicated member has been my father,” said Rodriguez. “We’re working on making sure that the trail is wheelchair accessible and he’s really taken that on as a special project."
Rodriguez hopes it will become a community effort soon.
“As COVID restrictions change we’re hopeful that more community members can come out,” she said. “Students, when we tell them, want to come and want to bring their families."