Students learning at new outdoor classroom in Beachwood

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BEACHWOOD, Ohio (WJW) — There’s an excitement from the students learning at the new outdoor classroom of the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish day school.

“I learned that all trees can be different shapes and sizes and they can have different leaves,” said second-grade student Lily Kertesz.

Originally they came outside because of COVID but the school says outdoor learning has become part of their educational philosophy.

Eppie Miller coordinated the project and says it came together over the summer thanks to logistical help from the city of Beachwood and a generous grant from the Stanley I. and Hope S. Adelstein Environmental Fund.

“Ever since I started working here I noticed this amazing space of land that our school wasn’t really utilizing,” Miller, the school’s outdoor learning coordinator, said.

Miller says a lot of thought went into making sure the space could accommodate the learning needs of kids from ages 18 months to 8th grade.

“Especially for the early childhood area, I thought about smaller logs to sit on, little tiny picnic tables, little tools for the students to use.”

And some kids like Liam Akrish have their favorite. “I like using the rake.”
Miller says lessons begin with a moment of mindfulness to get the kids calm and centered. “And then from there, my lessons are focusing on the environment, our nature, the nature in our classroom and environmental responsibility.”

There also is a spiritual connection with deep roots. “So much of nature is part of our history and tradition in Judaism so it’s very natural to bring the natural world into everything we do as a Jewish Day School.”

The school says the space is helping develop motor skills, creativity and learning through senses but the pandemic can still impact the lessons.

“I think in the age of COVID, teachers really do have to modify how we do collaborative work.”

Rain, snow, or shine students will be outside unless it’s dangerous. Miller says it’s all about being equipped. “We’re really emphasizing this to our teachers and our parents to please send your rain boots and your raincoats and your gloves and your hats and your snow boots.”

Albert Einstein said look deep into nature and you will understand everything better. “In the classroom, you can do cool things but out here you can do things that can be cooler,” said Akrish.

The school plans to continue the outdoor education program and will work to secure funding to grow it further.

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