Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Students’ ‘Outdoor Classroom’ Takes Root to Benefit Entire Community

June 26, 2015

A late teacher's bequest will become a place of outdoor learning and community stewardship.

June 26, 2015

By Rebekah Schilperoort

Spaulding Elementary School students

What started out as third-grade teacher Crystal Dozier’s (OH ’12) dream has blossomed into a service-learning project for her students that will benefit the entire community of Goshen, Ohio, for years to come.

Third grade students at Spaulding Elementary School in Goshen—a small township 31 miles outside of Cincinnati—worked hard throughout the school year to raise more than $5,000 to build an outdoor classroom at the town’s only park, Kathryn Stagge-Marr Community Park. The idea came to Dozier during one of her regular runs through the area when it dawned on her that the park, a mainstay in the town, was the perfect catalyst for a community-building project.

Lesson plans focused around helping the larger community are built into Goshen Local School District standards, and each year classes choose service-learning projects with that goal in mind. In the past, students have made lunches for police officers and collected baby food for the local food pantry.

But to see a project of this magnitude come to fruition, there would need to be more planning and fundraising than ever before. Luckily, Spaulding’s other third-grade classrooms joined the cause.

The students went big with their fundraising efforts, including hosting spirit days and bake sales. The project was shared on social media and the crowdfunding site (visit the page).

"It was really neat to see the involvement of all of our students," said Dozier.

Spaulding Elementary School students penny fundraising drive

Spaulding Elementary School students are hard at work sorting through change for a penny fundraising drive, which raised more than a thousand dollars toward the new outdoor classroom.

The local business community helped, too.  A restaurant donated 20 percent of their proceeds from one day of business, and a local bank helped the students with their biggest fundraising effort of all—a penny drive that contributed an amazing $1,280 toward the outdoor classroom.

“The whole community really came together for this project,” Dozier said. "We couldn’t have done it without them."

In addition to fundraising, students researched outdoor classrooms and worked to design a layout for the space. They even wrote letters to the park commissioners stating their ideas. 

“This project allowed our students to use critical thinking and collaboration to address real world issues,” Dozier said.  “It promoted students' civic knowledge and commitment to continue contributing to their community and to society as a whole.”

Third grader Tristan Guckenberger said his favorite part of the project was raising money through the penny drive and "hat day." 

"It was neat knowing that kids can make such a contribution," said Guckenberger. "This will help children learn for many years."

The location and history of the park couldn’t be more perfect. It’s easily accessible by foot to all Goshen Local students. And fittingly enough, the park itself was willed to the town from longtime Goshen resident and fifth grade teacher Kathryn Stagge-Marr, who died in 2008 at age 90.

The money raised so far will go toward the construction of a covered pavilion with a chalkboard and benches. There are also plans to build a greenhouse, install compost bins and more. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in April and at the end of the school year the students revisited the site to check on progress and hold a banner celebration.  The first phase is expected to be done by the start of the upcoming school year.

Once finished, the outdoor classroom will provide an alternative classroom setting with multi-disciplinary teaching and learning opportunities. Students will learn community stewardship by connecting to their environment and fellow community members.

More than anything, Dozier’s goal was to get her students excited about helping their community.

“We get so wrapped up in our own lives, we kind of forget about other people,” she said. “When you can instill that community value in kids at a young age it follows them as they grow up. It’s a value everyone needs.”

It’s these kinds of lessons—the ones that carry an emotional impact—that really stick with you, Dozier said.

“Now for their whole lives they can walk over to the park and see the pavilion, see their work and think, ‘I did this—I was a part of this when I was 8 years old.’ I think that would be the neatest thing,” she said. 

  • Crystal Dozier, left, helps prop up the banner celebrating the new outdoor classroom.
  • Spaulding Elementary School third graders burst through the celebration banner.
  • Spaulding Elementary School third graders burst through the banner.
  • Spaulding Elementary School students hard at work making goodies for one of their bake sale fundraisers.
  • This student-made sign details fundraising efforts for the outdoor classroom.
  • Spaulding Elementary School third graders pose in hard hats at the site of the outdoor classroom, Kathryn Stagge-Marr Community Park.


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