After nearly two months of planning and hard work, all 16 outdoor classrooms at Maine Coast Waldorf School are complete, thanks to the tireless efforts from so many volunteers from across our community. The 16 classrooms—one for each grade—will ensure that students and faculty will be able to safely spend as much time outdoors as possible, spread out across our beautiful 75 acre campus.
As the school weighed various options around the feasibility of returning to campus this fall, there was a consensus that on-campus learning would be an essential part of fulfilling the school’s mission. With fields, forests, gardens, woodland trails, and a curriculum that already encourages outdoor exploration and appreciation, the Board understood the unique position the school was in and began forming a plan to take advantage of our beautiful setting. By mid-July, the Board agreed to a plan calling for the construction of 16 outdoor spaces, which prioritized the health and safety of everyone in the community.
“Out of urgency comes creativity,” explained Development Director Lynne Espy, who, with Board Member Mary Bloch, led and coordinated the volunteer effort to plan and construct the classrooms over the past seven weeks. Ross Emerson and Greg Korbet, both parents and skilled tradesmen, provided the expert technical and logistical direction. “Mary Bloch and I just kept the ball moving and the food coming,” Espy joked.
“I saw one photo, and I said, ‘Oh we can build this, and we can make it look really cool’ and then I was hooked,” said Korbet, who is an Engineer. “I’m really happy that my kids can be outside.”
At each step along the way, volunteers with the exact skill needed stepped forward to help. In all, there were more than 50 volunteers which included parents, students, alum, faculty and even one grandparent.
Several different solutions have been constructed: Six classrooms located in wooded areas have durable, waterproof tarps in place, while three other sites have large pop-up tents to facilitate slightly larger outdoor gatherings. The most innovative solution, however, was the construction of seven SOuL canopies—a company that specializes in outdoor classroom solutions. Shipped all the way from the United Kingdom, these canopies provide beautiful, versatile teaching and learning spaces with protection from the elements, and required extensive planning and volunteer effort to set up.
Through the incredible generosity of donors, the entire cost of the outdoor classrooms is being covered by charitable gifts from our community. “The generosity and talent of this community continues to amaze and inspire,” added Espy. “In just seven weeks, we have built seven canopies that will last a decade or longer, and we have built friendships that will last a lifetime. It has been the most fun project I’ve worked on. This is our collective legacy.”
That legacy is important, as these outdoor classrooms will serve a purpose far beyond the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The outdoor spaces are part of a long-term vision and will be used for many years to come: the pop-up tents will be used for future games, events, and other activities, while the tarps will be useful for future field trips or other off-campus excursions. “We did not want to buy anything that wasn’t a long term investment in the future vision of the school,” said Bloch.
The canopies provide many different opportunities for a bolstered outdoor curriculum. The third grade curriculum, for example, has a focus on gardening. Their canopy is located right outside the kitchen, which will offer a chance to be even more engaged with their gardening projects on a daily basis, opening up a new depth and understanding not previously imagined.
We want to extend our heartfelt thanks and gratitude to everyone in the community who stepped up during a difficult and stressful time and created hope. “Whether folks gave two hours or two weeks of their time, it mattered,” said Bloch. “The reason this project was successful is because of all the folks who stepped up and gave their time, talent, support, financial generosity, and that is something to be celebrated. Our community chose action and with that action and by joining hands, together we created an outdoor classroom village that has lifted us all up.”