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JIS outdoor classroom making big gains

The anticipation continues to build surrounding Jemison Intermediate School’s outdoor classroom, and for good reason.

“It has been slow getting to this point, about three years, but now everything is coming in at once and starting to be completed,” JIS STEM teacher Rachel Mims said. “We have materials ordered for a lot of projects that will be coming in within the next few months.”

There is no firm date for the classroom as a whole, but instead projects will gradually be completed and added to the area over time.

Some of the projects that have had materials ordered or are being worked on include: standing work tables; convertible bench tables; a work area on the nature trail; an amphitheater experiment station; large chess pieces for the outdoor chess board; an outdoor sensory room; a drone course; wildlife observation stations with trail cameras and a Plexiglass data board for the outdoor weather station.

A butterfly and pollinator garden is one of the first things that the school has to have in place in order to be certified by the Alabama Wildlife Federation.

“That’s one of our bigger projects that is coming up next,” Mims said.

The school’s weather station will also soon have new digital capability so that all teachers will be able to excess information on their phone at any time.

According to Mims, another big project on the horizon will be adding a sun dial as part of the outdoor classroom. The sun dial will be surrounded by a sensory garden.

Outside of the outdoor classroom, JIS will also be adding trio of 3-D printers available for teachers to use as part of the STEM program.

“We’ve got some big work days coming up,” Mims said.

After years of planning, the outdoor classroom is finally reaching the point where it can be used for the educational purposes that it was always intended for.

“We’re finally getting to the things that our students can do,” Mims said.

Teachers and students can begin using the various projects as they are completed throughout the upcoming school year.

“I have outdoor lesson plans that are available for all the teachers to use,” Mims said. “It has a curriculum with standards aligned and everything ready for them.”

Each class at JIS will take part in curriculum conducted at the outdoor classroom for 1 to 2 hours every nine weeks.

Mims believes that the outdoor classroom comes along at the perfect time and should offer a creative and safe learning environment in the midst of the pandemic.

“Especially right now when we are confined to classrooms and wearing a mask, it’s important that we can get these kids outside to get some fresh air while learning,” Mims said.

According to JIS Principal D.J. Nix, the school’s staff has continued to strive for growth even during the pandemic.

“We’ve used this time to strive for personal, educational, career and community growth,” Nix said. “‘Every day is a new day.’ I’ve been preaching that for a while and I can’t stop now. We have to strive for the best even in times of despair.”

Nix has not lost sight of the fact that safety and protection of the children is top priority, but he stated that he is not using the pandemic as an excuse not to grow.

According to Nix, the outdoor classroom was the vision of the late state representative Jimmy Martin and the current school board has continued to support the process which started under former school superintendent Tommy Glasscock.

“Mr. Martin believed in children first, and that’s the mindset we have here,” Nix said. “I can’t cheat these students.”