Duke, local school build collaboration

Students and teachers at Moorehead Montessori Elementary School--one of the target schools in Duke's Neighborhood Partnership Initiative--will soon be able to enjoy their lessons in the shade of a new Outdoor Learning Environment.

The product of a collaborative effort between the school, the University and the community, the OLE needs only to be touched up and sealed before it will be ready for use. The project could be finished by Christmas, weather permitting, or at the latest next spring, Moorehead Montessori Principal Nancy Sabiston said.

Rob Lamme, father of two Moorehead Montessori students and chair of the Outdoor Learning Environment Committee--a committee of Moorehead Montessori parents, teachers and administrators that helped publicize and raise money for the project--emphasized the cooperation among the various contributing groups, especially Duke.

"The University was really sort of the glue that kept the whole thing together," Lamme said. "Not only did they help arrange some contributions, but they were also really helpful in putting all the pieces together."

The Neighborhood Partnership Initiative began in 1996 and serves as an umbrella organization for Duke's efforts to aid 12 area neighborhoods, including seven schools within them. Officials said that the University's efforts for the OLE at Montessori exemplify the work of the NPI.

The OLE comprises three arbors and is connected by cement walkways, in which each student sank a self-designed tile along with various small objects brought from home. One student sank a watch, another a computer disk and a third coins from around the world. Faculty and staff members also contributed to the walkway design, sinking handprints and objects of their own.

The centerpiece--a large sundial featuring various numeral systems, including Arabic, Roman, Chinese and tally marks--was developed by the upper elementary students.

"The beauty of the project was that we [and] every single student--all 200 of them--came out and personally sank their tiles," Sabiston said. "We had four-year-old kids carrying tiles as big as they were. It was a real 'wow' moment."

Once the OLE is completed, teachers will be able to bring their classes outside to the shaded arbors, which were constructed to reflect the teaching methods of the Montessori program.

"A lot will depend on the weather, but truly I think it will be used a lot daily because it complements the Montessori philosophy and materials," Sabiston said.

The language arbor emphasizes phonics, parts of speech and writing, and includes white boards sunk into the cement.

The other arbors, which emphasize mathematics and social studies/science, are similarly constructed for hands-on learning. They include devices such as an abacus-like bead frame for mathematics and a built-in plant stand, which will allow the pre-kindergarten to fifth grade students to participate in cultivating their own plants.

Duke's Program Coordinator for Community Affairs David Stein, whose son also attends Moorehead Montessori, acted as the main liaison between the school and the University. "The University works from what schools say that they need," he said. "The school said they needed a shaded learning environment, so we helped raise the money and helped them get the cement contractor."

The contractor, J.W. Grand, Inc., had worked on University projects before. Last year, Director of Facilities Management Jerry Black asked all the contractors who do significant work with the University if they would help with philanthropic projects that are too big for facilities management to handle alone, said John Cline, assistant director of facilities management.

"The contractors all stepped forward, and all we really did was contact them and ask if anyone wanted to help," Cline said.

Still, Sabiston stressed the importance of the University's role in the project. "The time, energy, effort and word of mouth through the guys at Duke--in making sure that people got in touch, that things were getting done--it really worked like clockwork," she said.


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