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Westfield Washington Elementary unveils outdoor learning lab for the community

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — The Westfield Education Foundation received a grant from Duke Energy foundation for $15,000. Funds are supporting the creation of publicly accessible outdoor learning lab next to Shamrock Springs Elementary School.

The Shamrock Outdoor Learning Lab, the 7-acre plot of wetland is being transformed into an educational green space to help students and community members develop positive relationships with the environment, other people and ourselves through interaction with nature.

“We created literally multiple habitats across this seven acre. We have the deciduous forest. We planted 300 trees in one area. You walk out from the deciduous forest area and you walk into a prairie grass area and then you have the wet lands as well,” said Robb Hedges, principal, “So, that’s multiple eco-systems that use to be all over Indiana, and it’s all going to be in this one small little area.”

The greenspace currently includes a pond, wetland animals, prairie grass, flowers, a trail and recently-planted sapling trees. A boardwalk is currently being constructed on the pond and is scheduled for completion in spring 2023. With the grant, the foundation will purchase floating islands that will be located near the boardwalk.

Hedges said studies show students who learn outdoors develop a sense of self, independence, confidence and creativity which are characteristics they want for their Shamrock community. They’re glad that the Duke Foundation is turning their vision into a reality.

“I think it’s going to help a lot with the mental health of our students. Our Shamrock students and also students across the whole district where gosh, let’s just get them outside and just take a little breath of fresh air,” Hedges said.

Kim Vogelgesang, Duke Energy Foundation manager, says she is excited for the lasting impact this project will have on the local community.

“We are pleased to support Westfield Washington Schools with their Shamrock Outdoor Learning Lab,” she said. “This will serve the community for generations by enriching the development of the green space and managing the watershed through wetland creation and habitat restoration.”

Executive Director for the Westfield Education Foundation, Ashley Knott says that the space will be available even for the community.

“You couldn’t ask for anything better that’s sustainable, that is something that will teach kids, adults, seniors, any one can come use this space here eventually once it matures,” Knott said.

Students will be able to see the progression of growth over the years and Hedges said they’re continually seeking to build. They’re looking for partnerships.

“We’re looking at getting some solar panels out there as well. It’s going to be able to power the outside area for our outside classrooms,” Hedges said.