Pembroke students take lessons outside, thanks to new ‘classroom’

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 26, 2012

 Ledge rocks, mulch and a variety of plant life were used to create an outdoor classroom at Pembroke Elementary School in Troy.

Ledge rocks, mulch and a variety of plant life were used to create an outdoor classroom at Pembroke Elementary School in Troy.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

BIRMINGHAM — Students at Pembroke Elementary School are getting a breath of fresh air, thanks to the school’s new outdoor classroom.

The project was a combined effort between the school and generous groups in the community, said Pembroke teacher Gail Moses. As one of the leaders of the school’s Environmental Club, Moses has helped students with a number of projects to promote environmental sustainability at the school. When her students suggested the idea of an outdoor classroom, she enlisted the help of parents and the Birmingham Public Schools District to make it happen.

“We want children to be outside as much as possible, and we know that it’s hard sometimes to learn inside of the classroom,” said Moses. “To be outside in nature kind of takes care of both of those — to be in a natural environment that will be conducive to learning.”

After a discussion of what would work and what wouldn’t in the al fresco environment, the school applied for a grant from Lowe’s Toolbox for Education, a program sponsored by Lowe’s Home Improvement stores. Pembroke won the grant last spring, and with additional funds donated by the student council and Pembroke Community Service Organizer Vicki Muir, they began to order supplies for the outdoor learning space.

“We discussed the seats, if they could be made out of wood. But it deteriorates, decomposes, and then you have a bug issue,” said Moses. “We ordered ledge rock because it will always be there.”

Before the massive rocks were ordered to be used as bench seating, English Gardens of Troy volunteered the services of the store’s landscape architect, who provided the school with a free design plan for the space. With the guidance of the design, the Environmental Club planned to landscape the area with ornamental grasses, like morning light and reed grass, as well as autumn blaze maple trees, red twig dogwood and more.

Gary Stevens, project manager for BPS grounds operations, helped to order and install the ledge rocks, and plants and trees were placed in the outdoor classroom. The space began to take shape just before the end of the 2011-12 school year.

Pembroke Principal Susan Crocker said the outdoor classroom is just one more achievement to credit to the Environmental Club, which also manages a garden on the school grounds.

“I’m very excited that both our school community and also our home community are so focused on the environment and green initiatives,” she said. “To see a group of young people so passionate and also so driven outside of their regular workload to devote time and energy after school and through the summer to this and to manage the garden — it’s not only impressive, but also heartwarming and inspiring.”

Moses said that as the fall harvest nears, the Environmental Club will pull vegetables from the school garden and use the ingredients to prepare a spaghetti dinner.

As for the classroom, Moses said she knows that many of the school’s teachers are planning to take their students outside for a lesson while the weather is still warm. But the space, she said, is being utilized by the whole neighborhood, not just Pembroke kids.

“I know that the Pembroke fields are used for soccer right now, and I see parents sitting on the rocks and kids doing their homework out there. It’s truly being used by the entire community.”