New Outdoor Learning Environment Taking Shape at JHS

The Johnston Community School Foundation has laid the groundwork – literally – for an entirely new learning area at Johnston High School.

JHS art students paint a shipping container that will be used at the new Outdoor Learning Environmen

JHS art students paint a shipping container that will be used at the new Outdoor Learning Environment.

Recently, crews completed dirt work and a shipping container was painted and moved into place at the new Outdoor Learning Environment at JHS. The Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE) represents a collective effort by the Foundation, numerous JHS departments, City of Johnston, and Johnston Community School District to provide students with space and equipment to better study elements of biology, ecology, and environmental science.

The OLE has been three years in the making. Between securing funding, sourcing materials, and getting the site prepped for usage, it’s kept Foundation board members busy. The idea for an OLE stemmed from JHS science teachers Sara Kate Howe and Kyla Burns. As the teachers settled into their space at the new high school – and as demand rose for more science classes – they submitted a grant to the Foundation with their request to create a one-of-a-kind classroom.

“The OLE is big idea and one the entire Foundation felt compelled to support,” said Jennifer Haxton, Foundation board president. “We knew, that if implemented, it would deliver great impact to students across the district by delivering an exceptional learning opportunity to JHS students with an on-site ‘living’ classroom. It would provide all students in all grades across the district access to the space to advance STEM curriculum and serve as a great addition to our overall community and recreational trail system.”

  • And now that the OLE is coming to fruition, the collaboration opportunities for students and teachers from all academic areas is evident.
  • Rhys South, JHS Industrial Tech teacher, along with students in construction technology, have developed the OLE site plan and shelter design. Stahl Construction is overseeing the construction management of the shelter, which will be built in late May. South and his students will also oversee the pouring of concrete when it comes in.
  • Students in Katie Black’s art classes have been charged with painting a large storage container, which serves as a place where supplies can safely and securely be stored. They first primed the container, then created a grid to scale their designs before painting.
  • JHS science students will seed and plant prairie grasses around the OLE.
  • A local Eagle Scout secured an Iowa Department of Natural Resources “Trees for Kids” grant, which funded the purchase of 40 trees native to the area. They will be planted in late May.
Photo of the OLE pond and earthwork.

Groundwork was recently completed at the new Outdoor Learning Environment at JHS.

“The OLE has truly been a team effort and we are looking forward to maintaining that attitude when it is completed,” said Howe. “The goal was to create an outdoor space for all subjects and students to use.  We are beyond excited to see everyone working towards its completion and will be even more excited when all use it to enrich learning.

The work on the OLE has been supported by the City of Johnston, the school district, and district partners, such as Stahl Construction and FRK Architects + Engineers. A number of in-kind donations, secured by the Foundation, helped make this project possible. In total, $25,000 was raised to construct the new outdoor learning space, making it one of the most sizable grants and projects in the Foundation’s history.

“This has been a significant undertaking and could not have been achieved without dedicated and involved leadership from the Foundation and the community,” said Haxton. “But even more importantly, having many JHS students involved with this project effort certainly puts it all into perspective. It’s provided students with opportunities for hands-on, real world learning and exposed them to the many challenges, complexity, and the tenacity necessary to bring great ideas to life.”

Work will continue on the OLE over the summer in preparation for students’ return in late August and the start of classes.