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Classrooms at Chestatee, Sharon latest in trend
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Visitors travel along stepping stones, made by the “Earth Eagles” Chestatee Elementary student group, for the school’s recent dedication of its outdoor classroom. - photo by Autumn Vetter

Learning became a little bit brighter at two Forsyth County elementary schools this past week as both Sharon and Chestatee opened outdoor classrooms.

The schools were the latest to add the popular features, joining others such as Big Creek, Coal Mountain and Shiloh Point.

“Since the 1990s, many Forsyth County schools have worked in partnership with their PTA/PTO and partners in education to enhance their campuses with outdoor classrooms,” said Jennifer Caracciolo, school system spokeswoman.

“Teachers use these outdoor areas as hands-on, real-world laboratories for growing gardens, and studying geology, insects and the weather. The area also provides another opportunity for students to get outdoors, which is important for physical, mental and social development.”

That’s what appeals most to Chestatee second-grader Leah Hall.

“I think it’s awesome, because instead of staying in, you can be outside to do work,” she said after the school dedicated its outdoor space Wednesday.

The classroom brought additional joy to Hall and brother Brady, a fifth grader, as one of its more than 20 benches will recognize their grandparents.

Pat Grifith was also among the community members and former students honored with a bench at the school, which granddaughters Sophia and Ella attend.

“It’s a great way to honor us,” Grifith said.

The outdoor classroom is so much more than remembering the past, however. It’s a chance for students to learn in a non-traditional environment.

“It’s neat for the kids because it’s a different way to learn,” said Sophia and Ella Grifith’s mother, Michelle. “It’s just doing something different and it’s hands on.”

Chestatee’s outdoor classroom also includes:

* An arbor entrance in memory of a former staff member

* A tree honoring a bus driver who died this year

* An herb garden for a former principal

* A teaching board in honor of the school’s PTA president

“I was most impressed by the teaching board,” said Pat Griffith, a former educator.

Current fourth-grade teacher Lisa Bruce and her daughter were pleased to see all the work pay off.

“It’s an amazing space to come be in touch with the outdoors as they learn,” she said. “It stimulates their senses. They can hear things, smell things and see things and not just look in a book.”

Sharon’s outdoor classroom, dubbed the Sharon DIGS, includes an amphitheater, butterfly garden and creek beds, among other amenities.

The space for the DIGS — short for Discover, Inspire, Grow and Succeed —is large enough to accommodate up to three classes at one time.

Christine Murphy, parent volunteer, said the school’s Tuesday grand opening was rewarding.

“Watching over 950 enthusiastic students cycle through learning stations in the DIGS with smiles on their faces made all of our volunteer efforts worthwhile,” she said.

“We will continue to actively engage our children in activities outside of the classroom in the years to come to enhance their learning opportunities in meaningful and relevant ways.”

Back at Chestatee, Brady Hall perhaps summed it up best for students.

“It’s cool because you can learn outside,” he said.