Learning Outside in 2020

Teaching and learning during a global pandemic have brought challenges for us all.  Time spent “plugged in” while learning remotely has reminded us of the importance of finding time to step away from our screens and has emphasized the need to take advantage of the rich learning environment that surrounds us outside in Maine.  When we have been able to hold “live” classes at school, we have looked for new ways to learn outside, away from screens, whenever possible.  Lee Academy has already been committed to getting students outside as part of our student focused, place based curricula, but the challenges of 2020 have accelerated the need to allow students to learn in a more healthy environment.
If you drove by Lee Academy’s Moores Campus this fall, you probably noticed the addition of two beautiful new outdoor classroom pavilions next to the Alumni building and in Chandler Court between the Haynes and Dingley buildings. These classrooms were constructed by our building and grounds team, with generous support through a grant from the Friends of Acadia, in addition to federal Coronavirus Relief Funds.  Teachers and students have been excited to use these new learning spaces.  Classes across the curriculum have been held outside.  Creating artifacts for a placed based study of Native American culture in US history, counting insects for Environmental Science, sketching in art journals, graphing in the sand for Calculus, and discussing and reflecting in English classes are just a few of the learning activities that have taken place in the new pavilions.  Natural Resource Management students have also cleared an outdoor sitting area behind the Alumni pavilion and will be planting flowers, fruit trees, as well as constructing raised beds for vegetables in the spring.

Beyond the new outdoor classroom structures, the Lee Academy community has continued to take advantage of the awesome natural learning environment provided by the woods and watersheds surrounding our campus.  Students in physical education classes can often be found out on the trails.  Earth Systems and Environmental Science students are frequently outside collecting data.  Art students are out and about observing and collecting natural materials for their creations.  Students in Natural Resource Management and Outdoor Education classes have been especially busy applying their trail building skills this fall.  In the Natural Resource Management Class, students have worked together as a team to plan and create a new trail on Lee Academy land that connects the old soccer field to the driveway for the Haynes field.  Side spurs will be created to outdoor learning areas, including a small stream and wetland.  The students have been very motivated about this work, are enjoying the experience, and are excited to keep improving the area for school and community use.  Ninth grade students also pitched in to help with the new trail for a service learning project, and Mr. Shorty, our executive director, came out to help and speak to students about chainsaw safety and his experiences working with the Maine Conservation Corp.  Natural Resource students are currently developing a management plan and budget for future work in the area.

In Lee Academy’s Outdoor Education class, students have been hard at work creating the beginning stages of a challenge course.  This course will include low ropes and other elements that will help students strengthen their communication, problem solving, collaboration, and leadership skills as they use teamwork to move through the course.  Students in this group have also helped with constructing the new trail and will be creating a path to connect the challenge course to the trail.

As we say good-bye to the tumultuous year of 2020 and move on to 2021, we hope that you and all of your family and friends have a safe, happy, and healthy New Year.  At Lee Academy, we look forward to continuing to get students outdoors and allow them to reap the benefits of robust learning in an inspiring setting.  Keep checking our site for upcoming articles about outdoor service learning projects in the greater community and upcoming renovations to the Dingley greenhouse!