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Wilder adds outdoor classroom, thanks to local tree service company

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As Wilder Elementary first-grade teacher Kate Mantenieks hiked along the Appalachian Trail this summer, she thought about what it would be like for her students to be outside learning among trees. 

Turns out, it was better than she imagined.

Thanks to Russell Tree Experts in Westerville, her students spent parts of their afternoon this week perched on maple tree stumps in a new outdoor classroom near Wilder’s front entrance.

“My class loves it,” Mantenieks said. “I ask the kids if they would like to read the story inside or outside and it’s unanimous each time.”

Mantenieks typically gathers her students on the carpet for group activities or when she reads books aloud — a practice she couldn’t continue this year because of social distancing and health guidelines. So she considered an alternative she had heard and seen when her kids were in scouts: tree stumps being used as seats for an outdoor classroom.

“One of the most important things for the primary grades is having the kids gather together and share a story,” she said. “They focus better, they listen better and you just get that energy from the group of sharing, talking and learning from each other.”

With support from Principal Victoria Hazlett, Mantenieks reached out to Russell Tree Experts about donating 15 stumps for students and a larger one for a teacher. The group responded days later, more than happy to donate tree sections and set up the classroom.

Russell Tree Experts donate tree stumps for outdoor classroom at Wilder.

Last week, Chris Gill, regional sales manager for Russell Tree Experts, delivered stumps stored at their facility that would have been used for firewood or converted into mulch. 

“Now they’ve been repurposed for a good cause,” he said. 

In less than 20 minutes, Gill and Mantenieks set up the outdoor classroom, which features two rows of stumps more than six feet apart in a clearing near the school’s entrance. Once set up, Mantenieks brought her students for a lesson with school counselor Elizabeth Wolfgang

“Isn’t it cool?” she said to Mantenieks’ students as they settled on their seats. “It feels so peaceful out here and calm.”

Mantenieks brought her students out every day this week, reading stories and working on phonemic awareness lessons. Other teachers have been using the space, taking advantage of the sunshine and mild temperatures.

Mantenieks has always wanted an outdoor classroom space and envisions using it once the pandemic is over.

“However, I will move the stumps a little closer together and will be thrilled that I won't have to shout through a mask,” she said.