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Photo by Pat Sunderland Austin Geirrein unloads bags of organic soil material provided by Maxfield’s. Employees manned several stations in the outdoor learning lab, helping students construct raised planting beds and then filling them with the soil mixture.
Photo by Pat Sunderland From front to back, Bethany Farmer, Hunter Kelly and Rylee Knapp learn how rice hulls, wood shavings, compost, pumice, biochar, coconut coir (shell) and even worm poop can help break up dense clay soil and improve soil structure.
Photo by Pat Sunderland Maxfield’s employee John Orlando shares his passion for healthy soil and native plants with Lincoln students. Maxfield’s moved into the former Hi-Quality facility a year ago and has already grown from five to 15 employees.

Lincoln takes learning outdoors

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Lincoln Elementary School is partnering with local donors to implement an outdoor learning lab at the school on Hastings Street.

Opportunities are being created for students in grades K-5 to explore not only science, math and technology, but also reading, language arts, art, music and social studies.

"Texting and expectations of the 21st century learning require much more than what a textbook provides," explains project coordinator Mike Chastain. "Whether we call it experiential or place-based education, STEM or STEAM, the children need experiences to learn and retain the information that enables them to function in society. That's why I came to the conclusion that Lincoln needed an outdoor learning center, a place for cross-curricular experiences to happen that's outside, that's safe, and that's stimulating for students and teachers."

Chastain, a fifth grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary, attended a teacher institute at the Four Corners School of Outdoor Education to develop his ideas. He shared his vision with the teachers and administrators, then with their buy-in began asking each grade level what they'd like to see in an outdoor learning lab. The kindergartners chose a butterfly garden; fourth, an archaeological dig site; fifth, a weather station; plus a dozen other ideas.

Chastain obtained an $800 Arch Coal grant to begin project implementation. Young plants were transplanted from classrooms to raised planting beds built by the students and filled with an organic soil blend. Students used their math skills to measure and map meandering paths that will move from areas planted with low elevation vegetation, to alpine areas with native plants adapted to higher altitudes. Science stations include a weather station, solar panels, a wind turbine and worm/compost bins. Seating, stone walls and shade sails will enhance a landscape designed by Julee Wolverton.

"This will be an ongoing project," Chastain said. Support from Home Depot, Mile High Greenhouse, Delta County Libraries Seed Library, CSU Extension and Maxfield's has helped get the project off the ground.

Because Chastain believes hands-on outdoor instruction will help Lincoln's students thrive, he's also looking at opportunities to partner with The Nature Connection and Fort Uncompahgre for educational opportunities. He has started a monthly newsletter that features field trips, special speakers and other activities involving science and the outdoors.

"This is an ongoing project that begins this year but will evolve over time," Chastain said. Anyone who would like to help with labor, materials or money is encouraged to contact him at mchastain@deltaschools.com.

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