Soda Creek students help build outdoor classroom, garden |

Soda Creek students help build outdoor classroom, garden

Students, teachers and parents help build an outdoor classroom Wednesday at Soda Creek Elementary School.
Matt Stensland

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On a hillside behind the playground, Soda Creek Elementary School students are transforming a previously unused space into a garden, outdoor classroom and meditative natural landscape for all to enjoy.

Guided by fifth-grade teacher Natalie Sattler and retired teacher Cindy Gantick, the second- and fifth-grade students narrowed down a location and decided to focus efforts on a garden.

At first, there were some “pie in the sky” ideas, Sattler said, like a fishpond and a waterslide, but funding kept the project in scope.

Through three grants, community donations and the volunteered time and talent of landscape architect David Poussard, the garden is off to a good start with gravel pathways, garden beds and log seating.

Local businesses donated topsoil, the use of heavy equipment and other supplies, Sattler said, and two volunteer days provided labor. A third volunteer day is planned for Saturday.

A painted white fence bordering one side of the garden awaits an “interpretive” mural, the design of which is already underway.

Eventually the bare dirt will flourish with native plants, trees and a vegetable garden.

Sattler and Gantick’s vision is broad. The teaching opportunities span all subjects from soil testing, nutrition and ecology to environmental stewardship and public service.

Teachers can come outside to read students a book or lead a sensory-writing workshop, or counselors can use the space simply to help kids calm down. There’s project-based learning possibilities as well as the opportunity for kids to help one another learn to respect and take care of the garden.

Gantick said use will depend on teachers’ comfort levels outside and willingness to “embrace a little bit of chaos.”

Whatever it is used for, “It’s important to connect kids to the environment,” Sattler said.

Gantick and Sattler also stressed engagement and motivation, noting some students do better outside, where more memorable experiences can help with better retention of information.

There’s also a physical need for more room with a student body that continues toward outgrowing its indoor space, Sattler said.

And a key element is continuing to empower the kids in the use and development of the garden, Gatnick said.

“This is their space, part of their community,” Sattler said. “They’ve taken ownership and can say, ‘This is our garden.’”

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden

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