Westside Middle School students create outdoor classroom

Audubon Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service give project a big thumbs up  

On Thursday, the 200 students who make up the eighth-grade class at Westside Middle School Academy officially unveiled their outdoor classroom, complete with hand-built benches and a global peace tile mosaic.

“I’m very proud of all of you,” said WSMSA teacher Jon Neuhausel. “Everyone here worked extremely hard. Throughout the course of this, it really turned into a fascinating eighth-grade capstone project. I’ve watched students become leaders. This is what we’re about at this school.”

School principal Dr. Frank LaBanca said that the day before the unveiling he saw 25-30 students working outdoors on the project. Students had put in numerous hours getting the project ready before the school year ended.

“This is a vision of what we really wanted to happen at this school,” LaBanca said.

Thanks to a grant from the Audubon Society, planning for the project began in November for an “outdoor habitat” for migrating birds. It can also be used as a classroom for up to 25 students to solve problems, identify needs and provide services.

Students researched which plants would attract birds and butterflies. They also raised funds and sought donations from local businesses, saving more than $4,000 on the project. O&G, Lowe’s, Agway, and Tracy Floors & Tile made donations of material.

Rick Potvin, refuge manager, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, commended the students on their hard work.

“You are now part of a nationwide network,” Potvin said. “You are part of the National Schoolyard program. You’ve done some fantastic work – you rock.”

Jillian Bell, schoolyard habitat coordinator for the Connecticut Audubon Society, said she was excited about the project – that the students had created a beautiful place for learning and observing, quiet reflection, reading and writing. She noted that the outdoor space helps reduce pollution by filtering rain water and providing a habitat for migrating birds.

“Y’all have knocked this habitat out of the park,” Bell said. “This is what the power of a small group can do for a habitat and to provide learning spaces outdoors.”




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