INK! helps fund schools’ new outdoor classroom


INK! (Investing in Kids) recently helped fund a new outdoor learning space for students at Julington Creek Elementary at 2316 Race Track Road in Fruit Cove.

Grants provided by Wells Fargo through the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations and the Community First Cares Foundation funded the project.

According to Donna Lueders, INK!’s executive director, the Academy of Environmental Sciences and the Teaching Academy at Creekside High School collaborated with elementary school students in the service-learning project.

High school students built garden beds, added native landscaping, developed sensory experiences and created engaging lessons to share with younger students for a direct experience to teach and learn during World Water Day on March 22.

Student teaching took place in rotational groups throughout the morning and early afternoon activities with a “water passport” to track learning experiences.

Jeanette Murphy, Julington Creek Elementary School’s principal, initiated the project and permanent outdoor learning plan in 2020 with Alicia “Ali” Pressel, St. Johns County School District secondary school science teacher at Creekside High School and 2020-2021 St. Johns County Teacher of the Year.

Pressel’s expertise to lead the efforts includes teaching in the St. Johns County Career Academies program, the Academy of Environmental Sciences and Advanced Placement Environmental Science. She sponsors the Environmental Club and the Geospatial Mapping with a focus on project-based learning and STEM initiatives. Pressel is also a 2020 National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

Pressel implemented the St. Johns County School District’s approved program with Creekside’s Academy of Future Teachers instructor, Regan Ashker, on the “place-based learning” concept.

Also, Abra Murrell, Julington Creek Elementary clerk and local gardening enthusiast, was involved with teachers and students in designing and planting the new outdoor space.

The permanent installation includes outdoor areas with a “Wacky Watersheds” and Fun 2.0 space where students learn about the water cycle, watersheds and aquatic health through interactive lessons with resources from the St. Johns River Water Management District.

A “Nifty Natives” area features the importance of native landscaping in the community and about pollination through a student-developed sensory activity.

The “Rock N’ Roll” location 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 to 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.

Plans include the opportunity for additional local schools to implement similar learning environments and curricula. For more information contact Donna Lueders at 904-547-7120 or email Or go to