Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

Teachers at South Macon Elementary School will soon have an outdoor space to get students out of the classroom and learning first-hand.

Both the Macon County Board of Education and the Macon County Board of Commissioners gave approval for the construction of an outdoor classroom on the riverbanks near South Macon Elementary School (SMES).

Macon County Schools STEM (Science, Technology, Engineer, and Math) Coordinator Jennifer Love has been working with South Macon teachers and the school’s PTO to create a simple outdoor classroom for teachers and students at both SMES and Union Academy.

County commissioners, who own the property that SMES sits on, approved the project, which is being funded through grants and community donations.

The outdoor classroom is estimated to cost $10,000 based on a quote from local contractor BCR Construction. Love has already secured $6,000 for the project and will continue to pursue grants and other fundraising efforts to secure the remaining $4,000.

The initial investment for the project was secured through a  $5,000 contribution from the Soil and Water Conservation District and $1,000 from the South Macon Elementary School PTO for the project. In addition to having the support of the SMES teachers and PTO, the project also has the backing of the Coweeta Hydrologic Lab Schoolyard Program, STEM in Macon County, Mainspring Conservation Trust and Farm Bureau.

The space where the outdoor classroom is going to be constructed is already heavily utilized by teachers. The funding will go to make the area handicapped accessible and will provide benches for students to use as a workspace. The space will feature a two-foot wide u-shaped bench with shade structure to provide students with a space to write or work while doing water quality studies, plant activities and other science projects.

“We want students to be able to put down their worksheets or have an area to do experiments while utilizing the space,” said Love. “The location is perfect because they can use the creek for science experiments and that area is a great way to get soil samples without having to really get in the water.”

The bench will be located near the creek in the outdoor classroom area providing easy access to the stream for science experiments. In addition, the area is surrounded on one side by a forest area where teachers plan to study tree identification, and an open field on the other side which will be conducive to bird and butterfly studies.

Love worked with teachers to host the first Biodiversity Day field trip for all SMES fourth grade students in the outdoor classroom space last Thursday. Several local organizations hosted educational stations  in the area of the creek and field including Coweeta Hydrologic Lab, Mainspring Conservation Trust, the SMES PTO, STEM in Macon County and the MAPS Bird Banding Program. The Biodiversity Day gave students the chance to participate in real authentic science in the school yard in the future site of the outdoor classroom.