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Environmental program funds outdoor classroom
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Cheryl Read's biology students are enthusiastic about their new outdoor classroom because their high school "doesn't even have windows."
The recent winners of the Governor's Award for the Community Pride program, members of the Raleigh High School 4-H Envirothon Team said they can study many subjects around their fish pond. First, they name topics such as plants, fish and insects, but eventually they will tell of the valuable lessons they learned about community.
"We have learned a lot about the environment and also about the importance of teamwork. It took the whole community to help build the pond," said Kendrick Currie, a senior at RHS. "We still want to expand the project and add things like benches and tables."
Funding for the outdoor classroom came through a Community Pride grant from ChevronTexaco. The program is administered by the Mississippi State University Extension Service 4-H Department.
Read said her biology students have taken part in the district Environthon in past years, but she hopes this project will give them a better chance to qualify for state competition. She credits Sue Rogers, the local 4-H youth agent, with directing her toward the grant process to fund the RHS project.
"Ms. Rogers told me about the Community Pride grants and provided us with suggestions for projects," Read said. "Then with input from the Natural Resources Conservation Service office, we came up with the design for the fish pond as an outdoor classroom."
Read said receiving the Governor's Award has helped the students realize they really are making an impact.
"The Community Pride project has opened their eyes to the environment and made them aware of the difference they can make in the community," Read said. "The high school students have assisted with a third-grade field day by helping teachers monitor children and answer their questions about the environment."
Rogers said their close-knit community was a factor in the project's success.
"All the agricultural agencies in Smith County work together very closely. When the school decided to apply for this Community Pride grant, we all wanted to help," Rogers said. "One local resident donated the land adjoining school property for the pond, the county helped with heavy equipment and the students did most of the labor on the ground. It really was a team effort because we all knew that the whole community and school would benefit."
Envirothon team members have assisted Read with staff development programs to help other teachers see the educational potential of the outdoor classroom. The students staged a scavenger hunt for RHS teachers to help them learn what the outdoor classroom can offer their classes.
"Science students can learn more about water chemistry, the food chain, food webs and about solar pumps for the pond's water features," Read said. "But it's not just about science. The setting can be used for creative writing assignments, art, history and many other lessons."
Betty Rawlings, Extension associate with the state 4-H Department, said the program helps provide youth with incentives to improve their local environment. The grants are intended to stimulate additional investments by the local community.
"Raleigh's outdoor classroom accomplished all that we want these grants to accomplish. The students and the community came together to make this the top Community Pride project in the state this year," Rawlings said.
For more information on how a youth organization can apply for an environmental grant, contact the local county Extension Service office or visit the state 4-H Department's Web site.