Mohegan students ready for outdoor learning

Mohegan School students can enjoy some outdoor time with their lessons, thanks to the generosity of their parents.

The school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), with money raised through its 2018 Spring Fling benefit, donated more than $17,000 for the creation of an outdoor shelter with four picnic tables — which were unveiled Friday, Nov. 15, as the school’s new outdoor classroom.

School Principal Kristen Santilli said the work was completed by two Mohegan fathers, Jason Neves of Neves Brothers Construction and Robert Wood of Wood Construction. The school’s Fathers Club assembled the tables.

“I truly envision this as a space that’s going to maximize instruction and empower the students to bring their learning to a much higher level,” said Santilli. “The students can be out in nature, doing something with science, for example, and they will be right there, taking ownership. This is an incredible learning experience for them.”

The entire student body braved the chilly conditions Friday to see the ribbon cutting that officially opened the outdoor classroom. Students opened the ceremony by signing the Star-Spangled Banner. Joining Santilli for the festivities were Mayor Mark Lauretti, district Teaching & Learning Supervisor Gabriela Ziu-Pires and district Supervisor for Special Education Beth Smith, as well as Neves and Wood.

"I always appreciate being the city’s representative when I get the chance to thank local parents and businesses for their involvement in our schools,” said Lauretti. “One of the real values of Shelton is the people who participate. To our donors, thank you for your efforts. This is quite impressive.”

“I hope you enjoy outside space to learn and be nice to one another,” added Neves, owner of Neves Brothers Construction, to the gathered students.

“I can’t wait to take a day off and sit here and read with you,” said Ziu-Pires, who was a teacher at Mohegan School for four years prior to moving to the central office.

As part of the classroom, school officials created poles which will stand in the middle of the tables. Atop each pole will be a sign stating one of the district’s Habits of Mind. The signs were created by fourth graders, each of who were part of the grand opening ceremony Friday.

“Whatever we can do to help,” said Neves. “This benefits the kids, the school and our town. I am big on the community. I grew up in this town. There are a lot of good people in this town. Everyone is friendly, all hard working, and we support each other.”

"What role models for the children,” said Santilli of Neves and Wood, adding that these fathers, like so many other parents in the city, volunteer without any fanfare. “But we all know, and we all appreciate what they do for the kids.”

Santilli said when she arrived at the school in 2018, her hope was to create an outdoor garden — a place where students can enhance their learning by growing, and ultimately maintaining, plants as well as fruits and vegetables.

“The PTO took that, said it was a great idea, but they said that the students really needed an area for that learning. That’s when they wanted to support Mohegan School getting this outdoor classroom,” said Santilli.

Santilli said that once the outdoor classroom is in place, creation of the garden will soon follow. The school also said special visits — such as when Jones Tree Farm visited last year with an insect display — can be moved outside.

“It is a positive repurposing an important space,” said school Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet. “The opportunity for our very youngest students to play safely outdoors is important to their good health and education.”