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Grants inject $22,000 into local schools for outdoor learning spaces

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — A pair of grants will bring more of the outdoors to local students in the near future.

Knollwood Elementary School received $12,000 from the North Carolina Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council to improve the outdoor facilities on its property, while Salisbury High School was awarded $10,000 by T-Mobile to create new spaces.

Knollwood has a nature trail on its property, but it needs maintenance. There are trees down that need to be removed. The school has a small greenhouse that needs to be repaired and there will be new seating and tabletops.

“For the last two years, part of our focus is helping students understand the world can be their classroom,” Hairston said, adding the school has taken students on expeditions and in the past, but Rowan-Salisbury Schools has suspended all field trips due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grant will supplement the school’s ability to get students exploring in nature without leaving the property and is a good measure for infection control because of the natural ventilation outside.

Knollwood K-2 Lead Teacher Elizabeth Farmer said she collaborated with Hairston on the grant. She said there is a lot of useful land around the school, which realizes outdoor spaces are valuable right now.

“We just work together to dream how great it could be,” Farmer said, adding that some of the spaces have not been used much in recent years. The hope is that the area will be a great resource for the school after the pandemic wanes.

Hairston said the school was awarded a small grant from the council last year to take second-grade students on a camping expedition. This year, the focus for the grants was getting students outdoors, and she felt it aligned perfectly with what the school wanted to do.

The amount of money is substantial for one elementary school, and Hairston said it will give the school some flexibility with design and the upgrades it can install on the trail.

The trail has an old original seating area the school aims to revive by marking some of the plants, removing trees from the trail and refurbishing raised beds for planting. The school also has a pond stocked with fish and a butterfly garden that needs some work.

Farmer said the amount of outdoor resources at Knollwood seems like an exception rather than the rule.

SHS Principal Marvin Moore said the school is going to build a new covered outdoor learning area in its courtyard. The addition will be the first designated outdoor learning space at the school and will see some use as a multipurpose state.

Moore said there are some points in the day when teachers can bring classes outdoors for mask breaks when they can come outside, stand far apart and take their masks off for a few minutes. The new space will be able to access campus WiFi as well.

“Outdoor learning spaces are nothing new,” Moore said. “There are places like that in almost every school in Rowan County. Everybody has done something with outdoor learning spaces before. At first it was a luxury to have. Right now it is almost a necessity.”

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