Phillip Potenziano is superintendent of Brunswick schools.

Remember how much we enjoyed class field trips? Whether it was a trip to the Museum of Science or a day at the beach studying the tidal pools with our classmates, it was fun and exciting to spend time outside of the classroom. And we learned a few things as well.

Here in the Brunswick School Department, students at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School will soon be spending much more time learning in and about the outdoors without leaving the school grounds.

Principal Heather Blanchard and her outstanding team applied for and received a grant from the Maine Department of Education that is funding the development of a large greenhouse at the school. The $250,000 grant, part of the DOE’s Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures project, provides funding to support education innovation across Maine.

Blanchard knows the importance of time spent outdoors. “At this developmental stage, it’s important for kids to be able to play, learn and discover,” she says. “During the pandemic, they’ve spent more time on their screens, and getting outside has proven to have a great impact – on both kids and adults – on their mental health and well-being.”

The 22-by-28-foot greenhouse, large enough to accommodate two classrooms at a time, will have heat, water and electricity for year-round use. When completed later this school year, we’ll have a child-centered outdoor environment that supports accessible play and hands-on learning resources and experiences for all students.

Science, perhaps more than any other subject, lends itself to hands-on, in-the-field learning. Students will benefit from watching a seed grow into a plant, learning about Maine rocks, or feeling the difference between soil and peat moss without having to rely solely on photos in their book.


Teachers at Harriet Beecher Stowe also are working with our community partners at Cathance River Education Alliance Education Center, a nonprofit group in Topsham that manages the Cathance River Nature Preserve and promotes environmental stewardship, to develop new science lessons that provide valuable outdoor exploration, imaginative play and adventure.

For example, students in the third grade may study ecosystems, weather and climate, while older students might focus on earth and life science, as well as the impact of humans.

Principal Blanchard tells me the teachers are excited, and so are the kids. She and her staff held focus groups with fifth graders, and an outdoor learning survey was given to all students at Harriet Beecher Stowe. “They told us they like to be outside. It makes them happy, and they like exploring,” she says.

If the budget allows, we’d like to add an amphitheater of sorts – an outdoor space with risers for kids to sit and listen to their teacher or even to watch a small theater or music production. Blanchard is also working with a local landscape architect to create more nature-based learning areas that would incorporate more outdoor play and learning.

Outdoor learning has been a part of the Brunswick School Department for some time. Our high school has a vibrant garden program and the Kate Furbish School (named in honor of the local botanist and artist) has quickly established a reputation as one that celebrates outdoor learning.

“Outdoor learning is important across the board in Brunswick,” Blanchard said, “and we’ll be doing it at Harriet Beecher Stowe for a long time to come.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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