By Sarah Barney, eco-journalist intern and student at Denison University
In October of 2020, a teacher, Bill Godin, at Meadow Brooks Elementary School reached out to Thea Van Goor with an idea different from what she normally does. As the Director of Environmental Education at WMEAC, Van Goor is used to holding events in person, but due to the COVID pandemic, these were out of the question. So, when this Mr. Godin told Van Goor he wanted to create an outdoor learning space for his students, Van Goor was completely on board.
The Meadow Brook boardwalk, which is next to the elementary school, was the ideal outdoor learning space for students. However, Mr. Godin was worried about the kids’ safety. When Van Goor went to evaluate the space, she was happy to see clear trails, access to a small creek, fallen trees or stumps for seating, and a forest with a lot of learning opportunities.
As Van Goor kept exploring, she stumbled upon a hidden trail.
“We found this other trail, it was totally neglected and almost, almost seems like it had been forgotten about.”
After navigating through overgrown limbs and vines, there was a boardwalk. More than half of the wood was rotten, trees were growing through the boards, and Van Goor couldn’t take more than a couple of steps without having a natural barrier. At the end of the trail was the perfect space for an outdoor classroom. This was her opportunity to continue helping students and to do something she, and WMEAC, cares about.
After discussing the repair plan with Mr. Godin, Van Goor put together a list of materials that would be needed to repair the boardwalk, remove the overgrowth, and haul the old boards away. With a scope of how big of a budget would need to be, she applied for four different grants to fund the repair of the boardwalk
“When you are applying for a grant, you have to find a funder whose values align with the project you are working on. What sort of organizations want to get students outside? I looked for money for trail building, place-based learning, and outdoor learning spaces.”
The Forest Hills Public School Foundation, which is a nonprofit that funds a variety of educational needs, accepted their grant and funded the project.
With the help of the Education Coordinator, Kyle Hart got to work in March of 2021. The pair cleared the boardwalk of all of the overgrowth, removed all of the rotten boards, dug out shrubs, and finally added new boards.
“It’s not anything Kyle or I have ever done before, but we felt confident that we could do it.”
Van Goor’s husband, Mark, volunteered to help with the project too.
“After working remotely all year, it was refreshing to be able to be at a school doing something meaningful, even if we weren’t able to work directly with students,” said Van Goor.
Van Goor and Hart completed the project on Earth Day, April 22nd, just in time for students and teachers to enjoy the spring weather.