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North Rowan Elementary adds outdoor classroom space as schools cope with COVID-19

Carl Blankenship

SPENCER — An outdoor classroom can be as simple as some boards attached to tree rounds to create some natural benches and a small platform for a teacher to speak from.

And that’s exactly what’s now in place at North Rowan Elementary School.

The freshly-built outdoor learning space at North Rowan is a place students will be able to hone their public speaking skills, said Principal Katherine Bryant-Thrower. The labor for the new space, finished last week, was provided by the Jones family. Kevin Jones, a local contractor and Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education Chair, said he volunteered to complete the project mostly because he’s a parent of two kids who attend North Rowan Elementary now.

And Bryant-Thrower said the family was active helping with North area school improvement projects well before Jones was a board of education member.

“Mrs. Jones and Mr. Jones have always volunteered and provide a lot for our school,” Thrower-Bryant said.

Assistance building outdoor classrooms is one part of a call to action disseminated to families last week by the district as it is heading into a complicated re-entry. Students will only be in classes two days a week in two alternating groups, and the district has been ramping up precautionary measures by purchasing hand sanitizer, air scrubbers, protective equipment and contracting for additional labor to adhere to strict state guidelines for reopening schools.

Outdoor classrooms are another infection control measure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends moving classes outside when it is safe and possible to do so. Outdoor spaces provide unmatched ventilation, something district administrators have emphasized as an important part of infection control during the past few weeks.

Some schools already have outdoor learning spaces and some do not. Bryant-Thrower said North Rowan plans to create another outdoor learning space. And she said the generosity of people like the Joneses is what allows improvement projects to happen.

The impetus for new outdoor areas is the COVID-19 pandemic, but Bryant-Thrower said the space does other things for the school, including making the campus look more inviting and serving as a science education area where students can learn about natural concepts and see some of the wildlife that lives around campus like hawks.

“You can talk about science and habitat, as well as enjoying nature and just getting out of the classroom,” Bryant-Thrower said. “A classroom shouldn’t just be four walls. It should really be our world and how we exist in it.

The space is naturally shaded by nearby trees, is safe and well-made, which Bryant-Thrower said helped reduce cost because the area did not need a shelter.

“I asked and it was done within a day,” Bryant-Thrower said. “With everything that is going on, that will at least make it positive and exciting to come here.”



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