Lilly Center celebrates accessible outdoor classroom
On Wednesday, against a gorgeous backdrop of speckled green and yellow leaves, the Lilly Center for Lakes & Streams celebrated a milestone in accessible outdoor education. The ribbon cutting was attended by Dr. Cheryl Bremer, Grace College dean of the school of education, Dr. Nate Bosch, Lilly Center director, Dr. Drew Flamm, Grace College president, Connie Burkholder, Grace College Learning Center coordinator, educators and students from Jefferson Elementary, and community members.
The stage and seating components of the outdoor classroom were generously provided by Omer and Sue Kropf while the mezzanine and wheelchair-accessible ramp were provided by John and Maureen Hall.
Special thanks to Grace College for their partnership in this project. In attendance were three current special education students, all members of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), and their professor Dr. Bremer. Dr. Bremer was awarded the CEC Outstanding Professor of the Year Award for serving as a role model to students and for her exceptional skills in teaching university students about persons with disabilities.
The ribbon was snipped by Israel Gagnon, a Jefferson Elementary student. Dr. Nate Bosch provided words of welcome and thanked community members for their involvement. Dr. Drew Flamm led a short prayer. Finally, Lilly Center education staff Grace St. Clair and Ariel Wagner gave a short lesson on the five senses for all to enjoy while taking advantage of the accessibility the new space provides.
According to Abel Coppens, a student at Jefferson Elementary, the ribbon cutting “was good because we got to go there and learn about nature.” He and the rest of the students were all smiles as they explored the new space.
The outdoor classroom will be a primary stop during Lilly Center field trips. “The outdoor classroom is a centralized area where all students can sit and they can wonder at God’s creation,” Lilly Center education coordinator Grace St. Clair explains. “But it’s a classroom setting where we can make specific observations about the woods and wetlands.”
[It] was good because we got to go there and learn about nature.
— Abel Coppens, Jefferson Elementary student
Accessibility was an important factor when designing the mezzanine area. A gently sloping ramp makes it easy for anyone to access the classroom. Wire railing instead of wide wood slats provides a clear view of the speaker on the stage. There is also a gate at the end to allow easy access for support staff.
This project represents an ongoing effort on the part of the Lilly Center education team to make K-12 programming accessible for all students. Field trips to the Lilly Center are currently wheelchair accessible as are special activities like the Sand Table.
A classroom whose walls are trees and whose ceiling is the sky is instrumental to help students of all abilities connect with nature. St Clair concludes, “I think our next steps in accessibility are outdoors because unfortunately, those students don’t get to be as involved. We want to get everybody out here because it’s a lot of fun!”
Visit the outdoor classroom on your next walk!
The outdoor classroom is open to the public and is located right off the Heritage Trail on the south side of Grace College.