Molly Stark School to transform campus with trails, outdoor classrooms

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BENNINGTON — A group of teachers from Bennington's Molly Stark School have come up with a plan that will see new nature trails and outdoor classrooms created at the school.

"At the beginning of the school year we came up with an idea," said Molly Stark fourth grade teacher Susan Page, one of the teachers involved in the project, "it was to transform a wooded lot that's part of the Molly Stark campus into open classrooms and trails to help educate the children. Currently, we have Project Adventure equipment out there, and it was kind of dangerous, because people weren't trained anymore how to use it, so we wanted to come up with something that would be exciting for the kids to use."

Page said that students from David Dence's forestry program at the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center have been working to clear out dangerous trees and make the trails usable, said Page. She said the wood from the removed trees will be re-used to build some of the things in the outdoor classrooms and trails, including signposts identifying various plants and displaying quotes from nature-related childrens' books and poems that are in the public domain. She said that several of the maple trees in that area have been used for sugaring in the past, so information on that process will be on display as well, as part of the first outdoor classroom. There will also be benches in the outdoor classrooms.

Page said the school is also planning on planting a butterfly garden, which will also be used as an outdoor classroom. A third classroom will be centered around birch trees, and will focus on how Native Americans and colonial settlers used the trees in the past and how they are being used today. There will be a fourth area centered around some fallen trees, at which students will record information on local flora and fauna in their science notebooks, and a fifth area by the stream, which Page said would house outdoor easels for painting and writing.

The school will also install a trail camera, said fourth grade teacher Shari Sargent, and at the school's monthly all-school assemblies will show PowerPoint presentations of animals caught on film. Sargent noted that the motion-sensitive camera would also film any vandals, although she hoped there wouldn't be any of those.

"I think its a good idea," said chairman Ken Swierad, "Everywhere, I read, no matter if it's Bennington or Burlington or Essex, that children have difficulty with science testing. Probably hands-on learning, and getting excited, would help."

The other teachers who have been involved in planning the project are fifth grade teacher Mike Mazzola and kindergarten teacher Natalia Kline. Principal Donna Mackenzie-King said that anyone wishing to get involved or donate to the project should contact the school. The number for the school is 802-442-2692.

Page and Sargent made their presentation as part of the Bennington School District Board of Directors meeting on Wednesday. To view the full meeting, you can visit Catamount Access Television's YouTube page.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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