What does an extensive outdoor education have to do with sparking creativity, interest in learning and the ability to learn from failure?

Host Carole Dorn-Bell speaks with James Saxer and Laura Grimm from Dalton Local Schools about their unique and exciting outdoor education curriculum and how it connects to the rest of their school.

Dalton Local Schools has a 24′-by-36′ greenhouse available for all K-8 students, which provides critical hands-on learning opportunities.

“We use the greenhouse to extend the classroom and show the kids about the needs of living things,” says Laura, a teacher of STEAM, or Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math. “They can read about it, we can talk about it, but when they try to grow something they need to know it.”

The idea for the greenhouse came about six years ago, when a community member approached the district about reviving agricultural education in the schools. The district was denied a grant to start the greenhouse, which pushed the project back.

“And we couldn’t let go of the idea,” Laura says.

The district ended up using a variety of grants and a mix of public and private funding to establish the roughly $130,000 greenhouse right off the 7th and 8th grade wing of the middle school.

“We try to get everybody in the greenhouse at least once in the school year,” Laura says.

Activities in the greenhouse include a large plant sale in the spring to help fund the purchase of soil, pots and seeds, as well as germination studies, propagation methods and independent experimentation by kids. Students learn about pH and pollination and so much more. Basil was recently harvested for consumption in the school cafeteria.

“The highlight of the greenhouse, for me, is we are raising plants hydroponically, so that means just with water and nutrients, no soil,” Laura says.

The greenhouse is proving a great way to hook kids on science and creates a progression for agricultural, outdoor and creative learning through every step.

“That’s very intentional on the teachers’ part and on Laura’s part to make sure that we’re very systematic,” James says. “We want that vertical alignment so that the students continue to grow and build upon their learning.”

Importantly, students are encouraged to experiment without fear of failure.

The district’s outdoor education includes a week at Camp Wanake for 6th graders. It’s as important as ever as children are stimulated more and more by technology.

“It’s a great opportunity for outdoor education,” James says.

Dalton City Schools is seeing the payoff from efforts around agricultural and outdoor education. Since the greenhouse came online in January, there has been a 26% increase in related knowledge. Formerly only 4% of students were considering careers in agriculture.

“We’re also looking at… exposing our students to the sciences to try and promote opportunities in careers,” James says.

Carole asks James and Laura what advice they’d give to other districts.

“I think a major one for us was just the community support, the community involvement,” James says. “Looking at our community and understanding the importance of agriculture and saying, how do we get that back into our schools?”

Dalton Local Schools welcomes visitors to its greenhouse. Visit dalton.k12.oh.us for more information.

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