An elementary school in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, is proving that learning does not have to be confined to the four walls of a classroom.

On Friday, Melville Elementary School had the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for its outdoor classroom. Years in the making, this outdoor learning zone is offering more than just a fun way to learn.

Development of the Outdoor Classroom

“In 2017, the conversation started,” Principal Danielle Laurie said about bringing an outdoor classroom to the school. “The playground in that location was starting to sink. There was lots of erosion in that area so we had to tear it down, and it was just a pile of mulch.”

The idea of incorporating a rain garden started to take shape, and through a collaboration with Thrive Outside, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District (ERICD), the design for an outdoor learning zone took shape.

“It was really important for us to make it accessible to all children, students and families,” said Laurie, and making the space handicapped-accessible was a priority.

More Than Just a Classroom

While the space offers a unique take on a typical day at school, the design also gives back to the environment.

“It incorporates a rain garden which collects polluted stormwater that would normally flow into the Melville Pond, which is an integral water source for the Narragansett Bay watershed,” Laurie said.

It’s also a beautiful space for the community to enjoy during off-school hours.

“It’s a great way to get connected with nature,” said Laurie. “When kids can get outside, we get to see their personalities that we would never see in their classrooms, and it’s good for their well-being.”

Melville Makes It Official at The Ribbon Cutting

The area was completed in 2019, but thanks to the pandemic, students haven’t used the space until recently. On June 10, Thrive Outside, RIDOT, ERICD and Melville Elementary were finally able to celebrate the official opening.

“The feedback has been very well-received. I am so proud of this spot,” said Laurie. “Whenever I get to open the back doors (of the school) and show (people) the space, I love to see their faces. ... It’s a great sense of pride.”

The stunning learning space will continue to provide a fun way to learn and give the people of Portsmouth something to make them proud.

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