Elementary school to have outdoor student learning lab

Space to include nature journaling, interactive garden, honeybees



Jefferson Elementary School’s new outdoor learning area will be designed in part by WSU construction document preparation students.

ANGELICA RELENTE, Evergreen editor-in-chief

Jefferson Elementary School will soon have an outdoor learning lab that consists of educational zones such as a pollinator garden and nature journaling area.

Jena Jauchius, Sherry Pratt Van Voorhis landscape architect, said the 13,300-square-foot lab will encourage nature-based learning in five different zones. It will be located within the school’s interior courtyard near the library.

“Green spaces are so important in schools nowadays because kids are on electronics a lot [and] they aren’t going outside,” said Meg Gollnick, the school’s PTA fundraising chair. “To have these outdoor areas … is extremely valuable.”

Jauchius said one of the zones is a nature journaling area, which allows students to make observations on accessible journaling platforms. There will also be a magnifying station for students so they can inspect objects a little closer.

Another zone is a pollinator garden area which focuses on pollinator planting, she said. The area will teach students how to coexist with honeybees and will include art pieces such as a butterfly sculpture.

“It’s a pretty decent amount that they’re investing in this outdoor classroom for the benefit of the students,” she said.

The edible garden area in particular is beneficial for children with autism or sensory disorders, Jauchius said. Students can do activities such as digging and pushing wheelbarrows, and the area allows them to decompress.

She said the PTA approached her about the outdoor learning lab in late July. They hope to begin building the infrastructure and pathways this fall and continue working on the lab in spring.

Jauchius is also an adjunct faculty in the WSU landscape architecture department. Michael Sanchez, landscape architecture assistant professor, said students in his construction document preparation class will be taking Jauchius’ design build class in the spring. All efforts will go toward building the outdoor learning lab.

“My class of juniors is going to tackle as much as we can,” Jauchius said.

Gollnick said the idea of the outdoor learning lab stemmed from a first grade teacher three years ago. The PTA did not have sufficient funds before and decided to table it until they raised enough.

She said the total cost of the project will be $30,000. They accumulated $27,000 last year and are currently finishing up their fundraiser this year. It is rare for a PTA to make that much money, she said.

“You only get 60 percent of what you make,” Gollnick said. “We changed our fundraiser up, and we decided to have a donation-based fundraiser.”

Gollnick said she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer three years ago and was wondering how she could make an impact on the world before leaving it. She was given a diagnosis of three to five years.

“If you give [the kids] the love and kindness that they need in school, the education they need, the acceptance that they need … they can change the world, because they’re going to be better people for it,” Gollnick said.

Gollnick decided to shine a different light on the unfortunate connotation of cancer.

“It’s a blessing with the lessons that you learn when you know you only have so much time left,” she said.