Students in Otsego are growing their own outdoor classroom on a former farm field adjacent to their school.
Last year, Otsego teachers and students worked with land restoration professionals to reinvent a 16-acre parcel across the street from the school. Students of seventh-grade science teacher Molly Duhamel participated in a design charette in the fall when they added their vision to the ideas of the engineers and their teachers. Now in the spring, their outdoor education in the classroom has begun in earnest.
Those seventh graders were literally building their new classroom from the ground up when they planted 3,000 trees in May. On planting day, students were already excited to use their new space. Gretchen said, “This place is nice. Our teacher talked about bringing us out here for class. I think we’ll be out here a lot!” Caitlin said, “I like planting trees! Can I come back in the summer and volunteer to plant more?” Caitlin was amazed to learn that planting trees is a job that people can get paid to do.
About 121 students assisted with the planting. They also toured the acreage and got a report from the engineers who designed it. To make the land most useful to the school’s teachers, the parcel includes multiple habitats. The sixteen acres are becoming wet forest, emergent wetland, scrub wetland, and wet and dry meadows.
Science teachers, fine art instructors, and the language arts team all plan to use the space in their lesson plans. Future Farmers of America will farm a piece of it, learning how food production is part of healthy soil and a healthy watershed.
The use of the land as an outdoor classroom is a unique project of the Black Swamp Conservancy. The Fox and Shank families initially thought to sell the farm acreage for development. But a conversation with Black Swamp Conservancy showed them an alternative that supports the community, preserves land, and improves education. After the land is restored, ownership will be transferred to Otsego Schools where it will be conserved in perpetuity, never to be developed or built upon. The land will grow more than trees; it will grow the next generation of land stewards in northwest Ohio.