At Mohegan: Students to take their learning outdoors

Mohegan School students and staff will soon have a chance for a change of instructional scenery.
The school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), with money raised through its annual Spring Fling benefit, has chosen to donate $17,509 for the creation of an outdoor shelter and four picnic tables — which, when work is complete, will become the school’s outdoor classroom.
“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 Mohegan School Principal Kristen Santilli. “The students can be out in nature, doing something with science, for example, and they will be right there, taking ownership. I’m really excited about this. This is an incredible learning experience for them.”
First grade teacher Tracey Sedlock, also the PTO teacher representative, said the outdoor classroom provides a necessary change of scenery for children during the school day.
“Elementary students will be able to use movement, it will keep them more on task, more focused,” said Sedlock. “I also think it is good to get the kids out in the fresh air. We try to give them some in the classroom, but it’s just not the same.”
“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.”
Santilli said when she arrived at the school last year, 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.
The Board of Education accepted the donation at its Tuesday, March 5, meeting, meaning, according to Santilli, work on installation can begin once the ground thaws and students will get this outdoor learning experience this school year.
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.
“This is just another place for us to learn,” said Sedlock. “It affords us different teaching opportunities because we might be able to teach things that are happening outside that you cannot see inside the classroom, whether it is the flowers, the trees, different insects that are out there. Now, students can be hands-on right there because we are out in it. This is new for us, and anything new like this is exciting.”