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Soon, Chestatee High students can go outdoors, with class
Ninth-grader Roberto Reyes, 15, drills a screw into the structure of Chestatee High's outdoor classroom. The building will help environmental science students learn while being close to nature. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

If you can’t bring Mother Nature to the classroom, take the classroom to Mother Nature.

Armed with a nail gun and the ingenuity of the other 27 students in his construction class, Chestatee High School sophomore Chad Stevens has helped to build the beginnings of an outdoor classroom in the woods near his high school.

Stevens said he and his classmates designed the open-air classroom and began digging holes and planting wooden posts four weeks ago. Next comes the tin roof and wooden stage on which Chestatee High School environmental science teacher Nick Scheman will stand next semester.

The beginner building class has stepped up to the challenge of the hands-on learning experience, Stevens said. He said he’s gotten pretty handy with a nail gun and has learned how to use it at an angle to secure posts.

"I didn’t think we were going to have a really big part in doing it because we’re the introduction class," he said. "I don’t think we’ve made any really bad mistakes yet. I think it will be really nice because we’ve got a roof set and everything."

Stevens said the class has been working so hard that it’s two weeks ahead of its deadline.

Chestatee High School construction teacher Baker Pulliam said students began designing the outdoor classroom at Scheman’s request. Pulliam said students aim to be finished with the classroom before Christmas.

Scheman said he initiated construction of the outdoor classroom because it’s in the outdoors that his environmental science students learn best. Currently, Scheman said he takes his classes outside to explore the woods periodically.

"Even if you do a regular classroom activity and take them outside, it makes a world of difference in how the kids feel and how they think," Scheman said. "They seem to have a higher level of consciousness and I get better quality work out of them."

Jeri Gilbert, a sophomore at Chestatee High School, is in Pulliam’s construction class and has been working on the outdoor pavilion this semester. She said the building class is a great hands-on experience and believes when the structure is finished, science students will treasure their escape from the classroom to have a hands-on environmental experience.

"It won’t make science so boring," Gilbert said. "It’ll make you want to come to class because you get to sit outside and don’t have to sit at a desk all day. It’ll make class a lot more fun."

Scheman said Chestatee High students have adopted a stream across the street from the school located on Sardis Road. He leads students in collecting water samples from the stream to be tested for water quality. Students send their water reports to the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream program. So far, the stream remains pretty healthy, Scheman said.

Scheman, who was named Chestatee High School Teacher of the Year in May, said with the current global warming situation, water wars involving Lake Lanier and the gas crisis, his students are eager to learn more about their environment and are taking steps to making a positive impact on it. He said he sees students get involved with Lake Lanier shoresweeps and river clean-up programs on the weekends after learning about the fundamental importance of water quality.

"They say, ‘I live here now and I’ll probably come back here to live the rest of my life and I’d like to see that it stays in good shape,’" Scheman said.

He said all teachers from Chestatee High will be allowed to use the outdoor pavilion, as well as teachers from nearby Chestatee Middle School.

"Even a creative writing class could come out here," he said.

Long tables and benches will be the final touches on the outdoor classroom. Scheman said students are also working on designing a nature learning trail system in the wooded area surrounding the pavilion.

Scheman said the outdoor classroom was funded with $4,000 in total grants provided by Lowe’s Toolbox for Education, GreenWorks through Project Learning Tree and the Melinda Gray Ardia Environmental Foundation.