Bucksport students design their own outdoor classroom

On Wednesday, June 1, students and teachers at Bucksport Middle School (BMS) celebrated a major achievement. Since August 2021, students have been designing, designing and building elements of the experiential outdoor learning environment through team building and design thinking challenges. And now, nearly a year later, the new outdoor semester has been resurrected, made possible by a $130,000, three-year federal innovation grant.

STARS students cut the ribbon in the new outdoor classroom

STARS teachers in front of the outdoor classroom

STARS teachers and BMS Director Todd West in front of the outdoor classroom

Arts and Stars teacher Hannah Bailey, Science and Stars teacher Kent Burnham, and Special Education teacher Katie True serve up alternative education for 6th through 8th graders by facilitation as they build this new outdoor classroom. STARS (Students Taking Alternative Pathways to Success) is an experiential advisory program that began in the summer of 2021. STARS aims to support students through hands-on learning, including designing and building a home base, with a focus on connecting students’ interests to community resources and providing additional opportunities for reconnection. With each other, with their teachers, and with the school.
To start this project, students took a trip to Troy Howard Middle School to check out the outdoor classroom, outdoor kitchen, and garden for some inspiration. While the students were there, they drew pictures of Troy Howard’s facilities, to recall as blueprints for the models they were about to make. Next, Hammond Lumber presented a model of the outdoor classroom, which the students used along with their drawings to create cardboard prototypes. Once the prototypes were completed and refined, the students met with Orcutt Builders, Hammond Lumber and the RSU 25 maintenance crew to review and finalize their plans.
When Orcutt Builders began working on the exterior of the classroom, BMS STARS students worked on the interior of their classroom. Their first task was to make chairs that could hold their weight out of cardboard. Then, they started building the skills to learn how to use their new tools by building birdhouses. Once the birdhouses were completed, the students learned how to build the tables and chairs from a furniture maker and, using feedback from the teachers, began making their own prototypes. When Orcutt Builders began laying out the building’s exterior in early October, the students learned how to burn wood, and create signage for their soon-to-be center.
As the class began to take shape, students began helping to build it, helping build knee walls and even painting them the bright blue they voted for. Then, when Orcutt Builders finished building the classroom’s exterior, the students turned their table prototypes into reality — they built, polished, and painted themselves. In addition to the outdoor classrooms aimed at increasing school attendance and hands-on learning, the students have also built 12 classroom benches and 6 tables and are currently in the process of building 12 garden boxes to have outside the classroom to grow their own flowers and vegetables.

Taliban at a table with a drawing

Art table for STARS students

Table with painted flags

Social Studies Schedule for STARS Students

table drawn with a flag

Science schedule for STARS students

math table printed

Star Students Math Table

A table with books painted on it

Table of English Language Arts and Language for STARS Students

STARS students say they enjoyed the entire process and are excited for the upcoming year. One student said she enjoyed this school year. While she loved to get her hands in the wet cement of the classroom and get closer to her classmates, her favorite part of the class is the garden boxes. Another student said his favorite part was meeting and interacting with different teachers, students, and experts.
The school also plans to build an applied learning lab next to the outdoor classroom, scheduled to open in June 2023. The space will include a 4-season greenhouse, kitchen, workspace, and aquaponic system, among other features, and is funded by a $250,000 federal grant. Through the Ministry of Education’s Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures program.

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