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George P. Austin unveils new outdoor classroom

A special ribbon cutting was held last week celebrating a new educational opportunity for students at Linden’s George P. Austin Junior High School.

On Wednesday, Nov. 13, students and planners opened the GPA Outdoor Classroom. Located on the grounds of the school, the classroom is designed to teach students the science and value of growing their own food and other agricultural lessons.

The project started last spring with the planning and continued over the summer with help from several agencies, local businesses and community organizations. In what was once a grass area behind the school now sits several planting areas where students have already begun growing their own plants and vegetables.

“I can’t express how grateful we are for the many donations we have received from throughout the county. Over the summer, a lot of work was done to get us to where we are now. Their hard work led to what we have here today,” said GPA Principal Walter Hampton.

Students in the school are beginning the agricultural lesson indoors, incubating their seeds prior to transporting to the planters outside. Hampton said he hoped the students would be able to grow vegetables that could be prepared in the cafeteria for eating. “We would love for the students to see the process from seed to actual produce,” he said.

GPAJH teacher Jennifer Schroeder is the coordinator of the outdoor classroom and said the goal is for students to not just learn about growing food, but to actually do it.

“This will provide our students with the knowledge and experience that is needed in today’s market for learning a trade that will allow them to take care of their future families. We will be raising crops that will go from the ground to the table and is 100-percent student produced,” Schroeder said.

One organization heavily involved in making the outdoor classroom a reality is the Marengo County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“It became clear to us early on that there was a vision and passion for this project and we were sold at that point,” said Andrew Williams of the MCSWCD.

Marengo County 4H and Extension Office was also involved in the planning and will be utilizing the outdoor classroom for lessons in the future.

“My goal is to use the outdoor classroom for hands-on educational opportunities. There may be students here who will find they enjoy it and want to pursue a career in horticulture or agriculture. This could open the door for them to find their passion and to get excited about growing things,” said Marengo County 4H Agent Beth Yates.

Williams added that he hopes the project will help students to learn more about the value of the land and agriculture.

“We are disconnected from the land, and I hope this will help some students to get re-connected.  It’s not a bad idea to get your hands dirty,” Williams said.

Linden City Schools Superintendent Dr. Timothy Thurman said implementing the outdoor classroom project has been an exciting process that could offer valuable lessons for students well into the future.

“Growing your own food is a lost art,” Thurman said. “It is important that students learn this information and how they can make the land work for them. Learning about nature and how to grow things is very exciting for many of our students,” Thurman said.

Among those recognized at the ribbon cutting for their contributions to the outdoor classroom are: Eaves Construction, Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Bates, Curtis Luker, MCSWCD, Marengo County Parks and Recreation, the Alabama-Tombigbee Regional Planning Commission, Alabama Ag in the Classroom, and Marengo County 4H and Extension Office.

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, November 20 issue of the Demopolis Times.)