WENDELL — When Lake Myra Elementary students step outside the school building in the spring, it may not be for recess.
The school in June entered a one-month contest put on by retail chain Big Lots for schools in need of financial support. Out of 185 U.S. schools competing, Lake Myra earned one of the 37 cash prizes awarded – a check for $2,592.18 presented on Aug. 10 at the Knightdale Big Lots.
Participating schools submitted brief essays and videos explaining their needs and how the grant would fulfill those needs. At the same time, local Big Lots stores collected donations for the schools in the contest.
In Lake Myra’s video, several students made the case for an outdoor classroom, complete with benches and a garden – saying they want to learn about native plants and insects, greenhouses and how gardens work. Principal Jim Argent sees it as a way to integrate a variety of subjects along the lines of the new state Common Core Standards, which stress integration of multiple subjects.
“Anytime you can have hands-on, realistic learning it’s very exciting for the students and ultimately will create learning opportunities that will stick with the students,” Argent said. “It’s like the old Mark Twain quote – I can learn a whole heck of a lot about a cat by grabbing its tail.”
Argent said it will help having a teacher on staff who formerly worked at a school that had an outdoor classroom and also implemented the Common Core Standards. Having someone with that knowledge, he said, will pay dividends as Lake Myra tries its hand at mixing curriculum into the outdoor learning environment.
The scope of the project will be molded to fit the amount of available funding. Argent said the school will turn to outside organizations, like Scout troops, to lend a hand wherever possible.
“We’re reaching out to see if we can stretch it as far as we can,” Argent said. “I think we’ll be able to cover pretty much everything.”
Lake Myra was one of 30 schools to earn a $2,000 third-place prize. The grand prize for the contest was $20,000. Two $10,000 first-place prizes and four $5,000 second-place prizes were also awarded.
East Garner Elementary School also won a third-place prize – the only other winner out of the nine Triangle schools that competed in the contest.
Argent hopes the outdoor classroom will be completed to a usable state by the spring, and be fully decked out by the fall of 2014.