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Educators look to create outdoor learning space at Baraboo elementary school with grant funds
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Educators look to create outdoor learning space at Baraboo elementary school with grant funds

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By next fall, students could gather for outdoor lessons around a “mini amphitheater” at one of Baraboo’s elementary schools.

Gordon L. Willson Principal Amy Fassbender and kindergarten teacher Liz Gulden hope to put their Kohl Fellowship awards — a total of $12,000 — toward a wooden stage and stump seats at a site outside the school.

“The idea came about a couple of years ago when the principal and I were talking about how great it would be to get kids outside learning more,” Gulden said Monday at a Finance Committee meeting.

She noted “mental and physical health benefits of being outside, and also that we’re just outgrowing our space within the GLW walls. There’s not too much space to work with inside, but we have a lot of space to work with outside.”

In addition to the Kohl funds, Gulden said the project recently was awarded a Big Dig Community Service Project Grant in which DL Gasser Construction of West Baraboo will excavate and prepare the outdoor learning site. The company sponsors the grant, along with ALM Charities and Milestone Materials.

Phase one of the project will include creating a “mini amphitheater,” Gulden said. According to the Big Dig grant application, it would be used for outdoor lessons, after-school meetings, science experiments and music and drama performances, as well as by other organizations, such as the public library, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

“The possibilities are really endless,” Gulden said.

The application laid out a main stage with two side stages and a large chalkboard. Seats would accommodate roughly 22 students, and a paved path leading to the space would provide access.

Potential second and third phases of the project could add features later, such as a sensory garden, pathways and raised flower beds to the outdoor space, likely funded through smaller fundraisers and partnerships with local businesses, Gulden said.

She noted the project is in preliminary stages, so planners don’t know yet how much the overall project will cost.

District Administrator Lori Mueller said she expects the Kohl and Big Dig grant funds to be enough to cover phase one, which could start in spring.

After approving the project in committee meetings, the Baraboo School Board gave unanimous approval for organizers to continue prep work on the outdoor learning space.

“There’s lots of shifting going on to be determined later, but it’s a great project and it was fully supported at Finance,” said Finance Committee Chairman Sean McNevin.

Liz Gulden, a kindergarten teacher at Gordon L. Willson Elementary School, tells the Baraboo School Board's Finance Committee, including Sean …

Gulden was recognized for her teaching by the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation in 2018, while Fassbender received recognition this year for her leadership. Both were awarded $6,000 grants to be used by their schools for educational projects.

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Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

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