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Welborn students take learning outdoors

By: Cinde Ingram

HIGH POINT — Leadership High Point class members who sponsored an outdoor classroom at Welborn Academy of Science and Technology say they hope it will inspire other schools to offer classes outside.

The innovative classroom in the school’s courtyard has sparked excitement about learning in a different environment, said Principal Ashauna Harris.

“We’re really excited and trying to think outside the box — literally outside the box,” Harris said after the outdoor classroom’s formal unveiling on Wednesday. “It’s engaging material, but sometimes the setting changes your mindset. Our teachers and our students love coming out here.”

For example, students enjoyed working on art projects in the courtyard area now furnished with picnic tables, benches and flexible seating. Math teachers added the outdoor classroom to work on math projects.

“The outside learning environment gives them additional opportunities other than just the four walls of a classroom,” Harris said. “It pushes them to be more engaged, more interactive and more involved in their learning.”

Each year, the Leadership High Point class organized by Business High Point-Chamber of Commerce is responsible for choosing one community effort to support, said Amber Williamson, director of leadership and program development.

“Typically, it’s through sweat equity, but this group went a step further and secured sponsors,” Williamson said. “Essentially, the whole class rallied behind it because of the meaning for it. This space was literally a blank canvas that the kids weren’t really able to utilize and they didn’t have an outdoor space that they could occupy for learning or eating.”

Williamson described the current Leadership class as being full of talented individuals. She noted class member Raven Jefferson, Communities in Schools coordinator at Welborn, served as a strong advocate for her school and the students.

Class member Ryan Verstat, who works for Samet Corp., took the initiative to get a city permit to ensure the outdoor space could be developed as a classroom. “That was one level that typically hadn’t been done when it came to a class project,” Williamson said.

“With the amount of electronics and screen time there is nowadays, to get people outside is a good thing — to learn and be out in the sun and the fresh air,” Verstat said. “I think it speaks for itself if you see how often they use it and hear from the teachers how excited the students were to be able to come out here. There was clearly a need for it.”

Class member Whit Holbrook drew the design plans for the innovation classroom.

“Once we got the design approved by the class, he was able to help us get the list of materials we would need for the design to come to fruition,” Edie Williams, a Leadership class member, said of Verstat. “He was pivotal in getting all of the raw materials, nails, a lot of the tools and everything that we needed to do that. We had to go out and ask for donations.”

Jefferson presented an extra $570 donation to the project during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. High Point University donated umbrellas to provide shade for the picnic tables. Class members volunteered over three weekends to pull the outdoor classroom together.

Because of instances where more than one class wanted to use the outdoor classroom at the same time, the school now asks teachers to sign up in advance, Harris said.

“Our next step is we’re looking to create an interactive classroom and we’re looking for different donors to support that cause — flexible grouping, flexible seating, and nowadays they’re using bikes in class,” Harris said. “We’re trying to make sure we keep their minds moving, to keep them engaged and active. Because they’re teenagers, their minds are moving a thousand miles a minute. This is the first step to moving us in that direction.”

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