Making the Grade: Outdoor Classroom at Manning School

(NECN: Matt Noyes) - Springtime at the Joseph P. Manning School signals a return to the outdoors, becoming an outdoor classroom for each student at the small elementary school in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

Here among the trees and vegetation, students recite lessons from English class, test out their science projects or just gather to be inspired.

"In art, we can come up here and draw," fifth grader Alethei Bradford said.

Special education administrator Marvin Mitchell was the visionary behind this outdoor classroom, which was completed last spring. He worked with artists, engineers and volunteer groups to transform this area.

"There's tens of tons of gravel on this pathway so we needed a lot of help to move it," he said, adding, "It's been a dream for 17 years and a two-year long project."

This therapeutic walkway, or "The Path" as it's often described, consists of lots of little nooks - places where small groups of students can assemble and learn in a soothing environment.

The walkway has large and small seating areas, as well as music stations, which Mitchell says is helpful for roughly 30 students who face behavioral challenges. These students, he says, need more structure in their school day.

"It's especially useful for students who may be experiencing some kind of heightened state of anxiety. They can come out with one of their teachers and take a walk," Mitchell said.

"When I was stressing a test - the MCAS - I came out here with my teacher and smelled the fresh air," fifth grader Samuel Franqui said.

This outdoor classroom was also a perfect setting to speak to these students about weather and perhaps spark in them an interest in meteorology.

"I think that students, particularly nowadays, have gotten some disconnection from the outdoors, which you might call a nature deficit disorder, and to be able to do the work in an atmosphere that's less industrial can be not only soothing but inspirational," Mitchell said.

The Manning School Therapeutic Walkway is leading students down a path to learn about themselves and their futures.

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