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June 21, 2018
A steady rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the dozens of children, teachers, staff, parents and local leaders who gathered Thursday morning to celebrate the opening of a unique classroom space outside the Horace Mann Laboratory School on the Northwest Missouri State University campus.
Children crowded onto the Pentagode M – a 16-foot climbing tower that stands as a centerpiece of the classroom – while University and community leaders gathered to cut a nature-inspired ribbon of leaves and other natural materials created by children in Horace Mann’s summer school program.
“We have progress and momentum at Northwest Missouri State University and you’re standing in part of that right here today,” Northwest President Dr. John Jasinski told the crowd gathered for the celebration. He added that the transformation of the landscape adjacent to Everett W. Brown Education Hall is “a good description of innovation and agility” at the University as well as an example of its emphasis on collaboration.
Northwest received a $93,336 grant last year from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to assist the University with constructing the outdoor classroom. With that award, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Land and Water Conservation Fund agreed to fund half of the total project costs, and Northwest funded the remainder of the project, which totaled about $187,000.
The finished outdoor classroom provides a recreational space unlike any other in Maryville or the northwest Missouri region. It is designed as a next-generation space that goes beyond a single sport or activity, and it aligns with Horace Mann’s emphasis on curriculum-driven outdoor education, health and wellness, and environmental stewardship.
Additionally, it enhances Northwest’s ability to train aspiring educators who benefit from the clinical teaching environment at Horace Mann and the Phyllis and Richard Leet Center for Children and Families. Northwest’s School of Education emphasizes innovative teaching practices and creating learning experiences that stimulate each child’s creative learning abilities and problem-solving skills.
“Our role at Northwest has long been to prepare educators for the nation’s schools, regional schools, and local schools,” Dr. Tim Wall, the dean of Northwest’s School of Education said. “What better way to learn to teach than to practice teaching in ways that we haven’t been taught to teach. It’s more than a playground; it constructs our ability to reach into the future.”
Distinct learning spaces within the outdoor classroom focus on nature art, outdoor music and messy materials while blending natural materials. It includes a stage for creative play, a place for art, and a gathering area. Other features include a slide, swings, Adirondack chairs, a basketball hoop and a 1/10th mile walking-running path. Rain barrels and polished tree stumps, among other features, encourage sustainable stewardship of the space. Native grasses and flower gardens separate learning spaces and align with the natural beauty of the Northwest campus, which also serves as the Missouri Arboretum.
All of the outdoor classroom’s features also adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act, ensuring all individuals may enjoy the park.
“As you look around, this is more than a playground,” Wall said. “It is truly an outdoor classroom. This is the place where people of all physical ability levels can have access and full participation.”
Northwest engaged the Nature Explore company to design the outdoor classroom, which replaces equipment the University removed last year to make room for an expansion of its Frank Grube Tennis Courts as a result of the construction of the Carl and Cheryl Hughes Fieldhouse on the west side of the University campus.
The grant was a collaboration of Wall, outgoing Horace Mann Principal Sandy Seipel, Leet Center Director Cindy Rouner and Northwest Grants Coordinator Tye Parsons. Representatives of the Horace Mann Parent Advisory Council, the Regional Council of Governments, and the Maryville Parks and Recreation Department as well as Missouri Rep. Allen Andrews also submitted letters in support of the project.
The outdoor classroom is located directly north of Everett W. Brown Education Hall and is available for use by community members when it is not in use by Horace Mann students and staff.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468