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Salisbury Academy to launch phase one of ‘outdoor space of the future’

Muddy fun

Salisbury Academy student Kari Downs has delightfully muddy hands after working in the school garden. Submitted photo

Salisbury Academy student Kari Downs has delightfully muddy hands after working in the school garden. Submitted photo

By Lizzy Roy

Salisbury Academy

SALISBURY — The need for student engagement with the natural world has never been greater. With an increase in the use of technology by children and physical activity often taking a back seat to more sedentary play and learning, a chasm has emerged between children and nature.

“Students and families are seeking opportunities to participate in inquiry-based learning outdoors and meaningful interactions with nature,” said Beverly Fowler, head of school for Salisbury Academy.

With an understanding that outdoor play fosters many critical learning skills including reasoning, focus, self-control and persistence – all while enhancing students’ academic, psychological and physical health – Salisbury Academy is working to facilitate these beneficial connections. In 2014 the academy launched their environmental effort, Project Green Space, and soon, the academy will break ground on a dynamic outdoor learning sanctuary where these critical natural interactions can take place: the Salisbury Academy Outdoor Space of the Future.

Though Salisbury Academy has since its beginnings endeavored to teach the whole child – intellectually, spiritually and as a steward of the community and the earth – it was at the launch of the academy’s Project Green Space that the key emphasis on outdoor learning and school sustainability really took off.

“Project Green Space is a movement. It is a prioritization of nature, both in terms of reducing school waste and using our resources as efficiently as possible, and in continuing to develop essential outdoor learning curriculum,” said Fowler.

Since launching Project Green Space, Salisbury Academy has completed an application for N.C. Green School Certification – a year-long process requiring the teamwork of staff, faculty, and the academy’s student-led green team – and formed a productive partnership with Catawba College, its professors and students of environmental studies, and the college’s Center for the Environment. Additionally, Salisbury Academy completed an in-depth assessment by N.C. State’s Natural Learning Initiative to transform the school grounds into an experiential outdoor classroom.

Phase one

Professor Robin Moore of the N.C. State Natural Learning Initiative and his team worked over the course of a year to survey Salisbury Academy’s land, understand the school culture and develop an array of fitting features for the outdoor space.

“To develop the plan, many types of settings were considered, including those suggested by the students, teachers and community members – as well as those defined by the land itself,” said Moore.

A roundtable of community experts in landscape design, conservation, architecture, physical therapy and other relevant disciplines weighed in on the development of the plans over the course of several panel sessions led by the institute. From this panel, a Project Green Space implementation team was formed and includes: Jon Palmer, Mary Corinne DeGood, Dr. John Wear, Ben Goodman, Alexandra Shadroui, Kim Petty and Leanne Loeblein.

“The panel was an extremely creative and productive one,” said Dr. John Wear, professor of environmental studies for Catawba College.

Wear, along with the entire academy community, eagerly awaits the groundbreaking for phase one of the plan. Phase one features will include classrooms, teaching gardens, and spaces for students to investigate, explore, analyze and create. Walking trails will begin to take shape and shade trees will be planted, along with flowering perennials, edible plants and native meadow grasses. Gathering places will be created along with a STEAM learning center.

As explained by Moore, phase one will lay the framework for an exciting, innovative, new learning environment designed to provide experiences that nurture critical thinking about global environmental issues, where children are connected to nature, are comfortable taking risks and become stewards of the earth.

Additionally, the space is one that will serve as a resource for the entire community, whether it be through nature-based workshops, family days, or even as a field trip site for other schools.

“The Salisbury Academy grounds will be a space not only benefitting the academy’s students but students throughout the region now and into the distant future,” said Wear.

With a total project cost of $300,000 for Salisbury Academy’s Outdoor Space of the Future and an initial cost of $125,000 for phase one, the academy is seeking the funds needed to bring this fascinating outdoor classroom to fruition. Salisbury Academy has already raised over $70,000 to date in thanks to the generosity of local supporters. Interested donors are encouraged to contact Beverly Fowler at Salisbury Academy.

“The space will surely become a legacy of nature-based learning,” said Moore. “Phase one sows the first seeds of a dynamic, evolving outdoor learning environment that will grow into a special place for generations of children.”

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