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Extended Learning Outdoors (ELO)
Nebinger Elementary in Philadelphia



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Iowa State U. landscape architecture undergrads took part in a 2-day design/build of an existing rain garden at Nebinger Elementary School, a public school in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Queen Village.


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The outdoor classroom and school garden programs embody inquiry, creativity and contribute to giving the inner city elementary students positive attitudes about the environment and the physical sciences.



In the fall of 2017, undergraduate landscape architecture students in associate professor Bambi Yost's class at Iowa State University worked with students and teachers at Nebinger Elementary in Philadelphia and two nonprofits (The Big Sandbox and StudioLudo) to create an outdoor classroom in the school's stormwater garden. This was an ISU university student-led design-build project with significant community support. The Big Sandbox works to mobilize urban communities around green infrastructure and produce meaningful community spaces. This pilot project was for an "Extended Learning Outdoor Classroom" or ELO. The project was generously supported through a grant from the McClain Contributorship.

ELO schoolyards provide a range of opportunities for kids in urban schools to learn about the physical sciences in an outdoor setting. The local inner-city children often have limited exposure to the natural environment, although Philadelphia has one of the largest urban park systems in the country.

In partnership with Nebinger science and STEM educator Javier Dominguez, an Outdoor Club was established, that met twice weekly, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, November through December 2017. Students in the program ranged from 2nd through 8th grades. The curriculum was a dynamic combination of STEM, art, and nature. All sessions were held in the garden. Week one was about plant identification and leaf prints; week two was parabolic line art and stick weaving; and week three was about species identification and birdhouses.

This ELO project at Nebinger has helped develop a model on which to build a "kit of parts" for outdoor classroom education that is scalable and flexible to accommodate other schools' needs and desires. This comes at a critical time in terms of advancing the Philadelphia Water Department's (PWD) Stormwater Improvement Management program. Funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, PWD has teamed with the Philadelphia school district to develop a national and international model for stormwater management and educational programming. PWD and the school district have installed numerous green schoolyards across Philadelphia.

Nebinger has demonstrated that by building an outdoor space with children, and then including them in a discovery process through a combination of STEM and arts programming, they will respect and love their rain gardens. In a few short months, the children and staff at Nebinger have fully embraced the outdoor classroom, using it even during the cold weather months.





As seen in LASN magazine, June 2018.






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July 22, 2018, 9:23 am PDT

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