The classroom will have a whiteboard and tables and seating, but grass will serve as the carpet. The only light will come from the sun.

And when the students of Cloud Peak Elementary set foot in the school’s first outdoor classroom this fall, they will have a group of former fourth graders – currently seventh graders at Clear Creek Middle School – to thank.

“I am just thrilled to have this project come to fruition,” fourth grade teacher Maggi Lambert said. “When I started this project with my students three years ago, it was just a seed of an idea, but it has blossomed into something really beautiful. I definitely think that the kids who started this project with me years ago will be happy that the Cloud Peak students of the future will benefit from the project.”

The idea that became the outdoor classroom was sparked during the 2016-17 school year – a time when Lambert’s class of 24 students would occasionally get a little restless in the classroom.

“When I think back to that group, I had a lot of movers,” Lambert said. “So I started taking them outside, and I found that it provided them with a change of pace and change of environment that really increased their engagement. … I noticed that being outside made my students more focused, more on task and provided increased motivation.”

Lambert brought her students to a courtyard outside of the school’s art room. While the space had its advantages, including lots of natural light and a few places to sit, Lambert noticed that it was wanting in other areas. There was no place for the whole class to sit for group instruction and no weather-appropriate white board. There was also little in the way of trees or bushes to provide shade.

That’s when, in an effort to promote research skills, Lambert asked her students to look into what an outdoor classroom was, how much it would cost and what design ideas could be used. That information was eventually used in a funding request submitted to the Bureau of Land Management.

Ardeth Hahn, an archaeologist with the BLM who had worked with Lambert’s class in the past, brought the funding proposal to the BLM, but it was rejected. Hahn brought the project back up for consideration year after year, and her tenacity eventually paid off. Cloud Peak will receive $2,000 from the BLM to create the outdoor classroom.

Lambert said the dollars would be used primarily for seating and shade in the classroom. Based on funding and the interests of students, the area could also be expanded to include everything from an art area to science stations, Lambert said.

“We realize this is probably just one-time funding from the BLM,” Lambert said. “But I’m already considering other ways that we can add to this area, including working with the wood shop at Buffalo High School. It should be a fun opportunity for learning. … I think that anytime we can extend our walls, whether that is through field trips or an outdoor classroom, that really enhances the learning students do in the classroom.”

Stephen Dow covers a variety of beats for the Buffalo Bulletin including the Johnson County Commissioners and JCSD #1. Stephen is a Billings native who joined the Bulletin in 2016.

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