LIZTON — It’s a balmy 75 degrees and sunny with birds chirping and flowers in full bloom. And Tri-West High School students are right in the center of it all in the middle of economics class.
That scene will soon be a reality, as TWHS students in the Service Club have cracked the $10,000 donation barrier from the United Way and will be using the funds to create an outdoor learning center.
Jeff Marshall, a government and economics teacher at TWHS, is the service club leader. The club has been around for about 13 years.
“The service club sponsors thought it was necessary around here to give the kids a chance to get outside on nice fall and spring days,” he said. “Classes can go out there if they deem necessary to give students a different environment. We do have a fairly large property. Students will be able to study plants and different aspects of nature.”
The learning center will feature plants mostly for aesthetics. It will be about 20 by 20 feet large, feature seven benches, a podium for the teacher taking their class out, and be landscaped to allow students to walk right through it.
Lauren Lewis, a senior and co-president of the service club, explained the benefits of such a facility to students.
“I think it’s wonderful, because I don’t want to be stuck inside all day when it’s nice out,” she said. “We don’t care what we do out there, just be outside. We have English teachers that let us go outside and read. We just love being outside.
“We just didn’t really have a place for the kids to go out and sit down and learn outside. Eventually, we’ll have trails so it can become kind of a nature walk so they don’t have to just sit. Our vice president will be there and she’s planning on going further with it with the trails and more flowers and is working with one of the science teachers to get the right kind of plans laid.”
Several TWHS service club students spent part of this week outside working on the project. They put down mulch, planted bushes and white dalhias, and tried to further beautify the school.
“The science classes think it’s a good idea,” Marshall said. “It gets them outside. We’ve had several other teachers take their kids out on a nice spring or fall day and sit on the sidewalk and in the grass. Why sit in the grass and dirt and sidewalk in their nice clothes? I wouldn’t mind taking my classes out occasionally.”
Marshall and Lewis agree with how important the service club has been to the high school experience of countless students over the years, and Marshall says that’s because the success of it is put in the hands of the students to make it work.
“When I was a freshman, I joined because there would be lots of field trips,” laughs Lewis, “but I realized it was very influential and the more experience I got helping people and the environment, the more I realized it was becoming a big part of my life. It’s encouraged me to do so much community service.”
Other projects they’ve done include providing care kits for Sheltering Wings and building a bridge at McCloud Nature Park in North Salem. One group saw a need for more trees to beautify Pittsboro and they planted them in the park.
“I think for this club to be successful, it’s the kids that have to drive the idea,” Marshall said. “If the teacher drives the idea, they’d get bored quickly and it’d disappear. But the kids wanted to lead, learn, and do different things in the community for the good of the community.”
Students also refurbished a memorial garden dedicated to the memories of Jennifer Atkinson and Melissa Ellis, who died in 1999.
There is no timetable for the final completion of the outdoor learning center. That too is open ended with regards to how quickly the club wants to proceed in the coming years. The benches will be added by the end of the year.