Students and teachers revealed new additions and upgrades to the outdoor learning classroom during World Water Day on March 22 at Julington Creek Elementary School, 2316 Race Track Road in Fruit Cove.
The outdoor space officially opened on World Water Day last year and was funded with grants provided by Wells Fargo and the Community First Cares Foundation through a partnership between the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations and local education foundation, Investing in Kids (INK!).
According to Donna Lueders, INK!’s executive director, teachers, administrators and volunteers continued to support the ongoing service-learning project and the second annual World Water Day celebration, in collaboration with the Academy of Environmental Sciences and the Teaching Academy at Creekside High School.
In 2022, Creekside High School students, teachers and volunteers opened the outdoor learning space and hands-on learning projects at Julington Creek Elementary School, including in-ground and raised garden beds, native landscaping and sensory learning experiences.
This year, Creekside students added a butterfly science chamber with screened-in room, more native plants and landscaping, and various species of regional butterflies. New totems were also built with a variety of highly tactile materials for exceptional student education (ESE) students at the elementary school.
According to the international nonprofit organization, Pure Water for the World, this year’s World Water Day follows the campaign theme, “Accelerate Change.” Locally, the program included academy and elementary school students in rotational learning groups with hands-on learning activities, including a Wacky Watersheds and Fun 2.0 space where students learn about the water cycle, and a Nifty Natives area featuring the importance of native landscaping in the community, and pollination through a student-developed sensory activity.
The Rock N’ Roll activity encourages students to understand rock cycles, rock types and the importance of limestone in the development of the Florida aquifer. Sifting through Soils helps students learn about soil layers and the importance of soil resources in water filtration. Green ThumbsUp! features gardening basics and the opportunity for students to plant their own seeds.
St. Johns County 2020-21 District Teacher of the Year Alicia “Ali” Pressel initiated the place-based learning plan and outdoor classroom project in 2020 with Jeanette Murphy, Julington Creek Elementary School’s principal. Pressel is an environmental sciences educator in the Academy of Engineering and Environmental Sciences at Creekside High School.
Pressel implemented the World Water Day educational program focusing on water resources and water conservation with Creekside’s Academy of Future Teachers instructor, Regan Ashker. Under the guidance of Pressel and Ashker, Creekside students implemented upgrades to the outdoor learning space, developed sensory learning experiences and designed new engaging lessons to share with younger students for this year’s Water Day event.
Pressel has an extensive professional background in the classroom and previous work with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and sea turtle conservation efforts in North Carolina. She is a National Geographic Explorer among international experts who are groundbreaking scientists, conservationists, educators and storytellers. Pressel is a 2022 NEA Global Learning Fellow, 2021 Grosvenor Teaching Fellow, 2020 National Geographic Emerging Explorer and a LEED Green Associate with the U.S. Green Building Council.
At Creekside, Pressel sponsors the Environmental Club, Geospatial Mapping and other STEM initiatives, including project-based learning and outdoor field studies.
Future plans include the opportunity to implement similar learning environments and curricula at additional schools in St. Johns County.
“We look forward to continuing to work with Ali on innovative projects that positively impact student learning,” said Donna Lueders, INK! executive director.
The St. Johns County Education Foundation, Inc., is located at 1 Christopher St. in St. Augustine. For more information, go to ink-stjohns.org.