Ground Broken on Siwanoy Outdoor Classroom

Alex Wolff
A group of five people  hold shovels with dirt after breaking ground.

Left to right: Former Board of Education member and PTA President Tom Imperato, Siwanoy PTA President Jennifer Hawks Bland, Siwanoy Principal Susan Gilbert, Dr. Cheryl Champ, Superintendent of Schools, and Hannah Resnick of the Siwanoy Outdoor Classroom Committee.

After years of planning, fundraising and dreaming, the Pelham Public Schools broke ground on the Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom at Siwanoy School on Wednesday, December 19, 2018.

The Siwanoy Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom will bring a unique and exciting learning experience to the Pelham Public Schools that will augment the curriculum across all disciplines. Features that provide experiential learning possibilities include a stage, student gathering area, music and movement areas, art panels, raised garden beds for classroom plantings, a butterfly cycle garden and a weather station.

In addition to the students of Siwanoy, the outdoor classroom will also benefit the Pelham community at-large through after-school and camp programs, scouting programs, middle and high school volunteer opportunities, and Nature Explore workshops for adults.

The $257,000 project will be paid for with funds raised by the Siwanoy PTA, Siwanoy Outdoor Classroom Committee, Pelham Education Foundation, private donors and sponsors, and a New York State grant. Donors include: Jennifer and Trabue Bland, the De Cicco Family, Fred Alger Management, Inc., in memory of Michael Andrew Tamuccio, the Hade Family/Westchester Collision and Recovery, the McCormick/Pringle Family, Pelham Education Foundation, Pelham Preservation and Garden Society, Arthur and Catherine Scinta, the Bloise Family, Meridian Risk Management/Joan Solimine Real Estate, the Condon Family, and the Gottfried Family.

“These ceremonial shovels of dirt remind us of the years of digging, hard work, and imagination that have extended the classroom, reconnecting us with the outdoors around our beautiful, historic school,” said Siwanoy School Principal Susan Gilbert in front of fifth grade students, District officials and key contributors. “It will now be the children and their teachers who bring it alive. May they enjoy this outdoor classroom for years to come, exploring and learning, in this soon-to-be special space. When the flowers are in bloom and the sound of voices and music fills the space, we will look back on this cold, December morning when we finally broke through to plant the first actual seeds.”

Construction of the outdoor classroom, to be situated on the formerly grassy area behind the school’s MakerSpace, is expected to continue throughout the winter with completion targeted for spring 2019.

“We are extremely grateful to everyone who donated and planned to make this dream become a reality,” said Dr. Cheryl Champ, superintendent of schools. “Providing an outdoor educational area for our students to interact with nature fits perfectly with our curricular goals of fostering inquiry-based learning and will supplement the great work that is already going on in our classrooms. This addition to Siwanoy School will be a tremendous asset to our community for years to come.”

The design for the outdoor classroom was completed by Westchester architect Michael Molinelli and preserves the neighborhood feel of Siwanoy’s outdoor area. It incorporates design principles that are used in hundreds of Nature Explore classrooms across the country.

“I feel proud to have been a part of this effort and lucky to live in Pelham,” said Andrea Gottfried, who spearheads Siwanoy’s Outdoor Classroom Committee. “The outdoor classroom project is just one example of how our small community comes together to make big things happen. “This innovative, nature-based learning environment will support learning in science, technology, engineering, art and design, and math (STEAM) and children will also learn to be lifelong stewards of the environment.”

In preparation for its opening, Siwanoy teachers will participate in Nature Explore workshops that offer in depth training on the latest field-tested, age-appropriate methods for delivering curriculum while connecting students to nature.

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