Workday advances Jets’ ‘living laboratory’

James Clemens' outdoor classroom is set along a stream with indigenous plants and trees that attract insects. CONTRIBUTED
James Clemens’ outdoor classroom is set along a stream with indigenous plants and trees that attract insects. CONTRIBUTED

MADISON – Crews recently made progress on the work site for an outdoor classroom at James Clemens High School. The ‘classroom’ will allow open-air study for several curriculum disciplines.

In partnership with the Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program, James Clemens conducted a workday on March 10. Students, parents, faculty and community volunteers enhanced the area by continuing construction of a nature trail, raised bed pollinator garden, hosta garden and small pond.

Workers also increased students’ access to various sections of the wildlife habitat and nature trail, Patricia Williams said. Williams, who teaches biology and biomedical classes, and Sgt. Maj. Samuel McCray with ROTC are managing the project.

Principal Dr. Brian Clayton, assistant principals Jennifer Flanagan, Ryan Foy, Allison Miller and Rocky Smith and plant manager Chris Chesser also support the work. Other teachers on the planning committee are Brittany Bankston, Mike Burkett, Mary Crouch, Katherine Mousel, Meleighsa McLaughlin, Clint Merritt, Lynn Owens and Kristen Steele.

In 2013, James Clemens started conversion of the school’s nature trail into an outdoor classroom site with the Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program. When complete, the site will include a pond, wetland bog, streambed, pollinator garden, monarch butterfly way-station, weather station, songbird habitat and benches for classroom seating.

James Clemens science teachers already use the site as a “living laboratory” where students can study complex concepts from plant reproduction, pollination and wetlands benefits.

“The special education teacher uses raised-bed gardens for physical and occupational therapy with her students in gardening,” Williams said. “In the future, Spanish and Latin teachers can integrate educational signage throughout the outdoor classroom.”

Funding comes from an Alabama Wildlife Federation grant, James Clemens PTA, parents and faculty. Lowe’s, Home Depot, Across the Pond and Enchanted Forest have donated, along with Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong and District Two Commissioner Steve Haraway.

The Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program is a partnership among Alabama Wildlife Federation, Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. For more information, visit alabamawildlife.org/classrooms.

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