Despite gray skies and a wintry temperature, students at H.C. Storm Elementary School in Batavia eagerly scrambled on an embankment behind the school Wednesday afternoon.
They celebrated Earth Day by putting the finishing touches on their new outdoor classroom, planting perennials that included salvia, spirea, day lilies and ornamental grasses.
And when the weather turns nice again, they look forward to studying reading, mathematics and other subjects out there, sitting on stones that form a miniature amphitheater. Teachers will be able to eat their lunches at picnic tables. And the kids will be able to swap books in a Little Free Library emblazoned with the Dr. Seuss quote, "Be awesome! Be a book nut!"
The students asked for one about 15 months ago, after reading a story about a bookshop that had one. "'Why can't we have an outdoor classroom?" they asked their teacher, Julie Alholm. "'We have got to have one.'"
Alholm and school principal Tim McDermott thought the project was dead when they learned it would cost about $19,000. But landscaping company Grant and Power said if the school could come up with $5,000, it would donate the rest. The company built the amphitheater, embankment and path to the classroom, planted several trees and bushes, and spread mulch.
The students and their parents held a bake sale and a food-truck dinner. They also conducted a letter-writing appeal to school families and met their goal in November.
Alholm and McDermott said the classroom fits in with the school's emphasis on project-based learning. For example, it was students who suggested having several tables, because they thought it would be helpful to have a place on which to place their Chromebooks during lessons. The tables were donated by Norix of West Chicago.
A portable whiteboard will be brought outside, too.
"I'm sure when the weather gets nicer," McDermott said, "we'll see kids out there all day long."