Deep in the woods behind Pumpkin Center Intermediate School there’s a magical classroom. It’s a place where students and staff can escape from the confines of the schoolroom and learn in a different environment. For those in life science classes, they can put down their books and see nature firsthand. The circular seating arrangement is right next to a bubbling creek that is rich with aquatic life.

For the past five years, however, no one’s been able to use this classroom because the bridge going over a creek has not been safe. A boy scout, Brady Bell, and a girl scout, Taylor Ward, both high school students at North Lincoln High School, joined forces to open the outside classroom to be used once again. Bell repaired the stairs leading down the hill to the outdoor classroom and both worked on the bridge over the creek. Ward was awarded her Girl Scout Gold Award and Bell his Eagle Scout Award for competition of the project. 

“I was originally planning on doing the stairs as well, but Bell ended up doing it,” Ward said. “I’m also working on pre-made lesson plans for teachers to use so they don’t have to take time out of their day to plan activities out here or have a substitute.”

Some of the railing on the bridge, which is about five feet above the creek, had deteriorated, and much of the wood on the bridge and stairs had rotted out and there were exposed nails.

A neighbor who is an engineer, Jim Louy, was Ward’s advisor for the project. He drew up the plans for the bridge and helped with the construction. She was able to get the materials at a discounted price from Lowe’s Home Improvement.

“Education is very important to me,” she said. “I did a similar silver project at North Lincoln Middle School, so I was looking for a way that I could help educate people. I had heard about this project through the girl scout community, so I came out here to look at it and decided to take it on.”

Codi Kent, a third-grade teacher at Pumpkin Center, was excited about the prospect of being able to use the outdoor classroom again.

“We’ll come out here and do some science and observe nature,” she said. “We could also bring whole classes to do reading. It’s circular so we can instruct from the center. When getting out of the classroom like this, students can have room to move, especially for third grade because we stay in the same classroom all day. It gives them another option besides those four walls.”

The exercise that students and staff will get from going down to the outside classroom and back is not to be overlooked as well. It’s a relatively steep slope heading down to the creek. Ward and Bell also painted trip hazards and cleared any trees that had fallen in the pathway. 

“I think this project is absolutely amazing,” said Lincoln County Schools superintendent Dr. Lory Morrow, as she walked back up the hill. “They have helped refurbish the trail and bridge needed to get down to the classroom which now will allow kids and teachers access to integrate life science into our curriculum.”

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