Durham's Merrick-Moore Elementary School gets first-of-its-kind outdoor classroom

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Dozens of volunteers in Durham were hard at work Tuesday to build an innovative outdoor classroom for hundreds of students at Merrick-Moore Elementary School.

More than 15 learning labs include a plant bed, a weather station, and animal habitat.

Each space will teach students about math, science, and nutrition.

Fifth-graders Kamryn Pettiford and Elijah Warren are excited about all the possibilities of their outdoor classroom.

"It's beautiful and it helps you think out of the box a lot," Pettiford said. "Because of how much stuff you can see and learn from it."

Warren really likes the garden.

"Maybe we can do something with that. Make it more beautiful. Ponds, river, maybe we can get some fish in here," Warren said.

Edna Chirico with Out Touch, a national nonprofit partnered with BCBSNC and 120 volunteers to host this Big Dig, the first-of-its-kind laboratory in the Triangle.

"There is nothing that you can't transition from an indoor classroom to an outdoor environment," Chirico said.

Cheryl Parquet is one of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC volunteers. The company gave staff the day off to participate.

"Just to see the excitement in their eyes has just been amazing to me," Parquet said.

With 29 sites nationwide, Merrick-Moore was selected out of dozens of Title One urban schools that applied.

Out Teach said the school staff showed a dedicated history of providing outdoor learning.

Principal Matt Hunt is grateful.

"Can't wait to the see hundreds of families that will benefit from this," Hunt said.

Students also helped with the design of the Big Dig project.

One item they asked for is a seating area. Out Teach Project Designer Evan Dintaman created two "buddy benches."

"Students can sit in the space and solve conflict and also just build relationships," Dintaman said.

Moving forward, Out Teach will regularly train teachers on how to use the labs and measure how the students respond.

The organization said that at its other sites, student engagement is at 100 percent.
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