Garfield 16 schools grow outdoor programs |

Garfield 16 schools grow outdoor programs

Garfield 16 Superintendent Brad Ray partakes in the Tuesday ribbon-cutting at Bea Underwood Elementary's new outdoor classrom.
Lynn J Shore, Photographist

It just got a little easier for Garfield 16 instructors and parents to facilitate more outdoor time for students, as the district unveiled its new outdoor classroom and dome for elementary and middle school students on Tuesday.

At the end of 2017, Garfield County was one of nine communities to receive a grant for its Great Outdoors Colorado Inspire Initiative. Garfield County’s coalition received $1,570,541 over three years.

The grant money will be used for a wide variety of projects to get children and youth outside, including the recently unveiled outdoor classroom at Bea Underwood Elementary School.

Meredith Burke, who serves as hub coordinator between the Garfield 16 and Re-2 school districts, said the outdoor classroom is one of two capital projects that will be constructed in Parachute. The new facility was identified both by students and staff as something that would enhance learning.

Burke said it provides students the opportunity to be outside and learn in a different environment, and to not be in an enclosed classroom all day.

“We’re really hoping kids take advantage of this unique expeditionary environment,” she added.

According to the Outdoor Classroom Project website, outdoor classrooms provide hands-on experiences, physical activity, and social-emotional growth through peer interaction.

Clint Whitley, who serves as a science instructor for Garfield 16, said the outdoor classroom will provide a different learning environment for students and said gardening is what he’s heard is what kids most want to use the space for.

“This is an idea that came from the kids and the teachers,” he explained. “[It will provide] easy access for kids to get their hands dirty and learn outdoor skills like gardening.”

The outdoor classroom comes with 16 garden beds, which will be used for planting fruits and vegetables and is based at the elementary school, according to Burke.

The growing dome space, located at Grand Valley Middle School, also has several raised garden beds, as well as an aquaponic tank and other tools for science classes.

“We hope to use the dome for expeditionary learning projects,” Burke added.

Whitley said there are several seventh- and eighth-graders currently using the dome for a project testing the scientific method.

“A classroom doesn’t need to be four walls and a chalkboard,” he added.

He envisions a wide variety of classes and instructors taking advantage of both structures, and writing classes may be held under the clouds outside to provide a different learning environment for students.

Although just unveiled, Whitley said a cooking class will be held at the outdoor classroom later this month for students, parents and anybody else who may want to learn about how and what best to cook while camping.

More information on the event can be found at

Anybody interested in signing up can RSVP with Whitley at

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