The Outdoor Classroom at Central School in South Berwick, Maine, is a place where students can explore a miniature rain garden, walk a balance boulder, investigate native plants and grow fruits and vegetables in the area’s Fresh Food Express hoop house.

This year, educators at the school are planning to use Outdoor Classroom resources for additional wellness programs, including yoga. They also hope to incorporate programs that will involve and benefit the entire community.

The Outdoor Classroom at Central School is not just for the students and staff.

Creators of the innovative space want the entire community to become involved. Landscape architect Terrance Parker’s vision was to one day have the Outdoor Classroom become the “green core of South Berwick.”

In just two years, Parker has transformed the grounds behind the school into an Outdoor Classroom with meandering meadow, removing invasive plants and allowing the native landscape to thrive.

Working with former Principal Vicki Stewart and music teacher Kate Smith, Parker added the Fresh Food Express hoop house to grow vegetables. The gardens also have table grapes, peaches, raspberries and blueberries.

The Outdoor Classroom allows children to walk through a miniature rain garden, balance and walk on a log or a boulder, and play on sculpted earth.  An amphitheater also was created for informal gatherings.

The amphitheater was the setting for a brainstorming session by Parker, Smith, interim Principal Nina D’Akan, chef and author Kathy Gunst, members of the MSAD 35 School Board and others from the community Monday evening.

“In less than two years, we have this green core,” Parker said. “There are so many lessons that the children can learn out here. It would be great to rally the community around the school.”

Gunst was one of 500 chefs invited to the White House two years ago by Michelle Obama as part of the “Let’s Move!” campaign. She encouraged each chef to adopt a school and Gunst chose Central School, where her children attended classes.

“There is a schism between what we grow here and what is served in the cafeteria,” Gunst said. “On one day, you could be serving organic kale chips, and on the other side of the kitchen, someone is boiling hot dogs to put into white bread buns.”

Gunst said there are ways to incorporate healthier food choices, such as growing cabbage to make coleslaw and tapping into chefs in the community for ideas.

Smith said the space could be used for wellness programs, such as yoga.

Two representatives of Great Works Family Practice tossed around more ideas as well. Denise Trabold suggested getting help from the local 4-H organizations or Scouts to help the students in the gardens.

Dr. Christine Munroe talked about getting the kids onboard with the “Let’s Go!” program known as 5-2-1-0. This promotes eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day; no more than two hours of video screen time; one hour of physical activity; and zero sugary drinks.

Families and local businesses are caring for the hoop house during the summer months. The staff at Great Works Family Practice watered and maintained the garden this week and took photos to create a display to share with patients.

Every Thursday, starting today, families will gather to harvest that week’s produce, then sell it at the Hot Summer Nights Concert Series in front of Central School.

For details and information on how to become a part of the Outdoor Classroom, visit room.

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