Three years ago, some 5th graders at Countryside School came up with the idea of creating an outdoor classroom in the wetlands on the school property. They would create a little laboratory for the observation and study of the lifecycle of a wetland over the four seasons. The principal, the teachers and the PTO all quickly got behind the idea. The big vision here was to use the Outdoor Classroom not just for the 5th grade science class but to weave it into the entire K-5 curriculum.
The construction would be relatively simple - a few wooden walkways and some benches. It's the sort of thing that Countryside's very active PTO could probably knock together in a weekend. It turns out though that building anything in or around a wetland is exceedingly difficult due to the regulatory complexities of the wetland protection laws. Those 5th graders with the idea are long gone but fortunately Countryside has a tenacious and patient team who's been determined to get this done.
The original project was nearly given up for dead but it has all come together recently. It's going to be a complicated process and the carpentry will be the least of it. To run the regulatory gauntlet requires a fair amount of technical and legal expertise. The Conservation Commission has been working with the school to map out the step-by-step process. Meanwhile, Mayor Warren stepped in with an offer to have the city engineering department donate the necessary surveying services, overcoming a key stumbling block. Mr Detlefson, the 5th grade teacher who's been driving this from the start led a group of parent and student volunteers a few weeks ago in a spring cleanup of the wetland area. At the monent Brandeis biologist, and all around Newton wetland guy, Eric Olson is putting the finishing touches on the "vegetation management plan" a necessary piece of the puzzle.
The last remaining stumbling block is cash. To complete the project is going to cost roughly $5,000. They still need to hire an outside wetland consultant to prepare all the necessary submissions, drawings and plans, etc for the Conservation Commission, as well as pay for the required plantings and construction materials. In addition, they're looking for someone with expertise to volunteer a few hours of their time to do the required construction drawings for the relatively simple boardwalks.
Ideally, they'd love to find a single donor to underwrite the entire project. It's a rare opportunity for someone to step in, write a $5,000 check, and build a permanent addition to a school that will benefit an entire generation of children at Countryside.
Even more interesting, the Countryside Classroom has the potential to be a template that can be used across Newton. Nearly every elementary school in Newton was built on or adjacent to wetlands. The swamps are always the last undeveloped real estate in any town so that's where most of the schools were built. Once the Countryside's project is completed, the lessons learned and the curricula developed can be shared with other elementary schools across the city.
If you or anyone you know can write a big check or can donate construction design expertise, the Countryside Outdoor Classroom team can make this happen - contact Emily Ostrower, Countryside's principal (617-559-9450) as soon as possible.