Austin ISD Schools Get Grants For Outdoor Classroom Areas

Tony Cantu

AUSTIN, TX — The Austin Parks Foundation awarded grants to six Austin ISD schools toward creation of outdoor classroom areas.

The following elementary schools received a grant for $2,000 each: Oak Springs, Pecan Springs, Andrews, Cook, and Pickle. Gullett Elementary School received a matching “Challenge Grant” of $1,000 to help build an outdoor stage for the school and community.

“We are committed to enhancing the lives of all Austinites through our parks and green spaces,” said Ladye Anne Wofford, the park foundation's chief mission officer. “We’re honored to support our schools and community with these much-needed areas during the pandemic. Outdoor classrooms have immense mental and physical health benefits for kids and will have a great impact on the health of students and the city.”

Most of the schools receiving grants are high-need campuses that have little to no existing outdoor learning infrastructure. Such outdoor classroom areas provide a safe space for students and the community, parks foundation officials said. These new amenities will be joint-use sites, making them available outside of school hours for community use in staging meetings and physically distanced gatherings in adherence to safety measures spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, officials added.

Working with the parks foundation and Austin ISD, as well as the principals from these campuses, locations were determined through collaboration and input on the most accessible sites for teachers and students. These grant projects were designed to be cost-effective and efficient, using prepared tree stumps and logs from a local vendor as well as limestone blocks placed on mulched areas prepared by volunteers with the hopes of completing the projects in a timely manner, officials said.

“This partnership is helping to support some of our campuses that have a high need for outdoor seating and infrastructure,” said Anne Muller, Austin ISD outdoor learning specialist. “As a direct response to COVID-19, the creation of outdoor learning spaces will provide teachers with the knowledge that they're supported by the community and encouraged to teach outside as much as possible to help reduce the risk of transmission.”

The Austin Parks Foundation soon will begin prepping the sites and invites Austinites to join a volunteer project to lend a hand, officials said. Upcoming volunteer opportunities include Cook Elementary School and Odom School Park on Jan. 9, 2021. The volunteer project at Oak Springs School Park on Jan. 16, 2021, will be hosted by the Little Hummingbird Society program, providing an opportunity to engage youth in the creation of these sites.

For more information on these volunteer projects and to register, visit austinparks.org/volunteer. Foundation officials said the outdoor classrooms are expected to be completed by February 2021.

This article originally appeared on the Austin Patch