Lake Myra competing for outdoor classroom

kjahner@newsobserver.comJune 25, 2013 

Lake Myra Elementary School hopes money raised in the Big Lots competition will build an outdoor classroom complete with benches and a garden.


— Lake Myra Elementary School students think a good way for the school to improve would be to make better use of its natural setting in eastern Wake County.

Their principal agreed and enlisted the students in an effort with hopes of making that happen.

Lake Myra, along with seven other Triangle schools, is participating in a contest put on by furniture and electronic outlet Big Lots that will ultimately dole out $120,000 in financial support.

The retailer tasked each school selected to participate with producing a video and essay explaining why their school needed financial support. Then the public votes on the videos on the competition’s website. The vote-leader after July 7 wins a $20,000 cash prize; two $10,000 prizes, four $5,000 prizes and 30 $2,000 prizes will also be awarded.

On the competition website (, 186 schools from across the country have entered videos. Triangle schools include East Garner Elementary, Durham School of the Arts and Githens Middle in Durham, Forest Pines Elementary in Raleigh, Franklin County Early College High and Royal Elementary in Louisburg, Lake Myra Elementary and Wake Forest Elementary.

Voters can vote at the website after viewing any of the videos. In addition, selected schools have Big Lots locations collecting $1 and $5 donations from customers, all of which goes to participating schools. (Knightdale’s Big Lots is located at 7132 Knightdale Blvd.)

Outside the box

Lake Myra hopes to put the money toward an outdoor classroom, complete with benches and a garden. Principal Jim Argent sees it as a way to integrate a variety of subjects along the lines of the new Common Core Standards, which stress integration of multiple subjects.

Students outside can learn science through a garden and other observations of nature. They can also use it as inspiration for art, music or writing projects. In addition, garden food could go toward local food kitchens, Argent said.

“It would tie in Common Core standards, be part of the community and help students give back to others,” Argent said. “We also felt if we did win this, we’d connect with some local gardening clubs and possibly the N.C. State University agriculture program and see how they could partner with us as well.”

In Lake Myra’s video, several students make a case for the outdoor classroom – saying they want to learn about native plants and insects, greenhouses and how gardens work.

“Outside, you can explore all of nature’s wonderful things, and inside, all you can explore is your classroom,” one student says. “We have all this land here, and we have all this wonder in our brains,” another student adds.

Other local contestants are also hoping to fund outdoor initiatives.

Franklin County Early College High wants money for supplies so students can erect an outdoor shelter to increase lunch capacity, alleviating crowding while providing a learning experience. Royal Elementary proposed another construction project: a blacktop play area for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students.

Eyes on electronics

In East Garner’s case, the prize would go toward more technology in the classroom.

“We know that immersing our students in digital tools is the best way to keep our students globally competitive,” principal Kim Burton said. “We are not a STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) school and we are not a magnet school, so we have to stretch our resources to provide the availability of new technology to our students.”

Burton said students already grasp some technologies better than a lot of adults. Expanding the school’s capacity would do even more than immerse students and facilitate competency in the crucial new tools.

“Motivation and self-esteem also increase with technology use, and we know that motivation and self esteem help to increase student achievement,” Burton said.

Forest Pines Elementary and Wake Forest Elementary also have an eye toward technology, such as iPads or Kindles and interactive whiteboards. Githens Middle School hopes for a makeover for its art department through graphic design software.

The Durham School of the Arts entry puts a different spin; the school with 22 autistic students wants learning technology but also to create facilities teaching life skills; for example a laundry area to learn to wash clothes.

Jahner: 919-829-4822

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