Holy Family's outdoor classroom earns national recognition

Holy Family Catholic Academy, Inverness, has earned national certification as a Nature Explore Classroom from Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and the Arbor Day Foundation.

"We are thrilled to be the first preschool-grade 8 school in the entire Chicago area to be certified as an outdoor classroom," stated Kate O'Brien, principal, Holy Family Catholic Academy.

A group of stakeholders, including parents, teachers and Principal O'Brien, met in 2014 with Nature Explore, a collaborative project of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation.

Together, they envisioned an outdoor classroom that complemented HFCA's innovative curriculum and exposed students to a broad and balanced range of disciplines that goes beyond textbooks and beyond the classroom.

With the Nature Explore plan in hand, HFCA began populating the nine distinct classrooms and completed the certification process sooner than anticipated. The students have become the biggest advocates of the outdoor classroom, enjoying the space and spending countless hours building a Gathering Space, planting gardens and spreading mulch. Their excitement spread to their parents who continue to donate time and resources to help fund the project.

"Holy Family's outdoor classroom is such an amazing place. As a former science teacher, I know the importance of experiential learning. I am delighted that my children not only learn through nature, but benefit from being in nature," said Katie Bird, volunteer and parent of four boys.

Nature Explore Outreach Director Susie Wirth also complimented the Inverness school.

"Holy Family Catholic Academy has shown tremendous leadership in growing the next generation of environmental stewards. Their commitment to providing research-based and nature-rich learning offers a wonderful example to educators throughout the country."

O'Brien summarizes the effort by saying, "Being in nature, our students develop their natural curiosity, explore new ideas and, most importantly, understand the importance of caring for God's creation. It truly is a unique space to play and learn."

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