The Indiana Tree Farm Committee and the Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association presented its Outdoor Laboratory of the Year award to James Cole Elementary School.
The Outdoor Education Center includes a pond with an observation deck, wetlands with docks, a shelter house, bat house, butterfly garden, apple trees, walking path and more.
“This space began as a vision from parents who formed the original PTO when the school opened 30 years ago,” says Cole Principal Mike Pinto. “The space has evolved over time and with the partnership of Keep Stockwell Beautiful, several generous grants and a lot of hard work, this space has been reclaimed and modified into something not only of beauty, but of strong educational value for our students.”
Keep Stockwell Beautiful Board Chair Kris Ziller says the outdoor center is a hidden gem. “It’s a place to come, relax and enjoy nature,” says Ziller. “It provides a space that is outside of the classroom walls that allows children to think freely. Seeing a child hunkered down in the woods sitting on a fallen tree log reading a book is priceless.”
Students learn science standards, but also use the space for writing, reading, mathematics and mindfulness. In addition, the school hosts “Pond Days” where students can fish and learn from local naturalists. And, the fourth grade hosts its annual “Cole Regatta” each year where cardboard and duct tape boats traverse the wetlands and the larger pond.
“This space is also a wonderful spot to simply step away and enjoy nature at its finest. This is truly a wonderful award and something that we are very proud of at Cole,” Pinto says.
In addition to classes at Cole Elementary, Keep Stockwell Beautiful coordinates programs at the Outdoor Education Center involving other schools, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, 4-H and other organizations.