One school’s outside field work provides many educational opportunities for students and residents of a Colorado Springs neighborhood.
At Patrick Henry Elementary School, a miscommunication almost proved a disaster to the fourth graders who intended to study an empty field west of the school to learn about insects, plants, grasses, soil, and animal habitats. “We looked at it as a challenge because these things come up in real life,” said Principal Brian Casebeer.
The school in Colorado Springs District 11 has consistently been troubled with low scores on state tests. They are urgently seeking improvements to boost academic performance. Sharon Milito, a fourth grade teacher and winner of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists’ “Earth Science Teacher of the Year” award in 2011 thought it would be a great idea to expand her classroom by using the field as a science lab, incorporating different subjects. She called it “School on the Prairie”.
Students went every Friday to observe weather, insects and plants, and document their findings. Indoors, they researched what they had discovered. However, one Friday they ventured outside to discover that the field was gone.
Casebeer had told the school district that the field was being used for School on the Prairie, and asked them to not mow the lot. However, a neighbor complained to the city about the overgrown field, and the maintenance crew accidentally mowed it.
Mowed or not, the lot is still a field, and the fourth graders learned that the wildlife survived.
“The teacher is committed to them doing this, rain or shine,” Casebeer said.
The incident was turned into a positive opportunity, as students knocked on neighborhood doors, handed out fliers and told residents about School on the Prairie.
“So they got a public speaking lesson, too,” Casebeer said. “We want to be good neighbors, and we think if we explain what we’re doing, the neighborhood will support us.”