Do you like going outside? Many people would answer yes. A new outdoor classroom has been added to Juniata High School. The classroom is now open to any class that would wish to go outside to learn. The classroom was made by Mrs. Riley Shertzer and her Advanced Biology class. The following information has been provided by Mrs. Shertzer. 

“The idea for the outdoor classroom came in the wake of COVID when students were still wearing masks in school, but we could take them off outside. I was regularly taking my students outside for class, but it was a challenge because there wasn't a great space that was also productive for students to work. In addition, we wanted to include a pollinator garden that was built of native species that could be used for hands-on instruction for biology and advanced biology students. This idea was able to bridge both concepts.”

Studies have found that children who spend more time in nature environments have improved learning outcomes. Being outside helps increase creativity and critical thinking. Students are often calmer and better able to focus when learning in nature, additionally, teachers have reported better behavior and social interactions with fewer disciplinary issues.

Quoting Mrs. Shertzer, “…in 2021 with the help of Mindy Musser I applied for a DEP mini-grant to fund the project. We were awarded a mini-grant valued at $3000, that could be used for the project during the 2022-2023 school year. That school year my advanced biology constructed the initial garden beds, planted seeds and seedlings, and built benches. Mr. Whistler, the former Trades teacher, and his students built and installed the white board cabinet that sits at the front of the garden for instructional purposes. During the 2023-2024 school year, my students have put the finishing touches on the current space by mulching, weeding, transplanting plants, and completing other basic garden maintenance. They also researched and incorporated important elements for pollinators: shallow watering dishes, bee boxes, etc.”

She goes on to say, “Now that the initial plans are completed, the goal is for the space to serve all teachers and students in the building as an outdoor classroom. Being outside for class on nice days is proven to increase serotonin levels-thus increasing mood. We have plans in the future to expand and add elements to the garden. My hope is that every year my Advanced Biology students can undertake a new mini-project that contributes to the garden and provides for STEM learning that emphasizes plant science and pollinators.” 

88% of teachers say that students are more engaged in learning when taking lessons outdoors. Bringing the classroom outdoors leads to higher test scores as well as boosting mental health! Learning outdoors allows students to breathe in fresh air and soak up natural rays of sun. Thanks to Mrs. Shertzer and her helpers, we now have a nice place to go outside and learn rather than sitting in a regular classroom all day!