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Sparkman receives grant for outdoor classroom

The Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) recently awarded an Outdoor Classroom Grant for $1,000 to Sparkman School to help them develop and utilize outdoor learning stations for hands-on activities with their students.

The AWF awarded the grant to Bob Brechtel, a Sparkman history teacher who wrote the grant and serves as their school’s outdoor classroom coordinator.  Using the AWF Outdoor Classroom Grant funds, the school will expand their current outdoor classroom area to include a new pollinator garden, weather station and cardinal directions sign. They will begin creating a new outdoor classroom area to include a new raised bed gardens, a butterfly garden and a “herp habitat” including habitats for frogs, toads and turtles.

“We have two outdoor classroom sites on our K-8 campus.,” Brechtel said. “We began work on the first site, Phase I, for the 4th-8th grades behind the school in 2013. We plan to expand our first site and begin developing our second site, Phase II, in a courtyard near the K-3rd grade wing.”

Sparkman’s Phase I currently consists of raised planter beds for growing fruits and vegetables, a songbird habitat, a greenhouse and a community garden site.  They plan to expand this area by adding a pollinator garden, a weather station, a cardinal directional sign and an informational kiosk. Students will have access to all of these learning stations via a wheelchair-accessible path to accommodate all of Sparkman’s students.

Phase II of their outdoor classroom includes five new raised planter beds for planting annuals like herbs and vegetables, a butterfly garden in the shape of a butterfly and a wildlife habitat that will provide food, water and shelter for birds, frogs, toads and turtles.  The “herp habitat” will include native plants and three frog ponds to enhance the current habitat available in the courtyard.

Students will be able to explore the outdoor classroom areas, collect data about their weather and wildlife observations and report and track their observations on websites like Journey North and Cornell University’s eBird site.  These activities will also help the students track the migration of birds and butterflies, provide opportunities to witness the metamorphosis of caterpillars to butterflies and tadpoles to frogs and to learn about different types of native plants and the benefits that these plants provide local ecosystems and wildlife habitats.

The Alabama Wildlife Federation is proud to partner with Sparkman School in these projects through the Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program.