How badly did Wilmeth Elementary students want to have class outside more often? Enough to bring in $42,000 in two weeks.
The hefty collection is for an outdoor learning center that will line around the front right side of the McKinney ISD campus. District officials gave the go-ahead for the idea and fundraiser, and will soon decide whether to approve the addition’s design.
If all goes according to plan, the center – really more of an organized space with movable tables, benches and instruction boards – could be welcoming students sometime in early 2016.
“It’s just another place to get them excited about learning,” said Pam Brownrigg, a third-grade teacher at Wilmeth. “You can only change up what you do in the classroom so many ways.”
She would know – she’s been teaching for 23 years, the last eight at Wilmeth. But seemingly all other teachers agree. Mixing it up outdoors, and not just quick sessions on the sidewalk around the carpool lane, could spark students’ desire to learn.
Wolford and Minshew elementary schools are other district campuses with similar concepts. They, too, raised money for the outdoor projects. Contractors went over schematics for the Wilmeth project last week once the finances were more than in order.
With help from family, friends and community stakeholders, students garnered the $42,000 through online and in-person pledges. The money was pledged to Lucky’s Loop, an annual fundraising run the school’s PTO started in recent years.
Two siblings, both Wilmeth students, raised over $1,500 themselves, and the school brought in nearly $3,000 from local businesses. Though mostly for the outdoor enhancement, students’ efforts were tied in part to a more immediate result: their school’s head honchos on the roof.
Because the students hit well beyond their two-week goal, Wilmeth Principal Judy Bragg and Assistant Principal Kristin Ellis spent last Thursday on the roof. Sunshine and a slight breeze made for a pleasant fulfillment of the challenge.
At first interested, students barely noticed the two on their laptops and smartphones above them, though their perch looked over recess. Students are more interested in the real reason they raised all that money.
“In class, it’s kind of crammed, but outside it’s a big, open space,” said Elgie Hudson, a third-grader at Wilmeth. “I think it’s a good idea so kids can have fun outside doing science projects.”
That’s among the many ideas circling in teachers’ heads: weather vanes and rain gauges for science; a change in environment for math problems; instruction space using the world around them for any subject.
Even art teacher Rae Curren has visions for the space. Instead of still-life examples to draw, her students can examine and recreate real plants, flowers and trees. She plans to take her classes outside at least once a semester for an extended session.
And the learning space is right outside her window, so she’ll likely witness other innovative uses each week.
“I think it’s going to be awesome,” she said. “I’m really excited about it.”
Robin Keating, a fifth-grade teacher and one of Wilmeth’s most-tenured educators, calls the learning center a place where students can “purposely take some time to listen to what’s going on around them.”
“Some kids learn best sitting in a chair, some best in other environments,” said Keating, noting a natural setting caters to many science skills and lesson possibilities. “It’s just a way for us to expand their learning.”
Once the school gets district approval, a contractor will build the learning center. The PTO, which spearheaded the project, will allocate $500 a year in its budget to replenish and replant in the space when needed, said Melissa Hendricksen, the PTO’s fundraising director.
Though not surprising to many – Brownrigg said “everything is bigger and better at Wilmeth” – the $42,000 in such a short time awed even her and the PTO members, prompting Hendrickson to point out, “It’s hard to raise that much money.”
But students, teachers and parents are clearly on board with the special space. After all, what student doesn’t want to have class outside every once in awhile?
“Talking to the teachers, there’s nothing that they can’t incorporate,” said Hendrickson, whose daughter is in fifth grade at the school. “It’ll keep them engage and just break the monotony of the day.”