Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District

Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District News Article

Oxford First Graders Reach 'New Heights in Learning'

Oxford First Graders Reach 'New Heights in Learning'

March 3, 2016 -- Oxford first graders are getting their hands dirty with a favorite childhood fascination: worms. More than just having some messy fun, they are learning about soil science and the food cycle.

In what’s becoming common in the Oxford/Noble neighborhood, the new outdoor learning program at Oxford is the result of a web of community connections, collaboration and shared vision. Last year, veteran teacher Steve Warner, on a one-year leave from his special education position at CHHS, created New Heights in Learning to offer outdoor learning year round in the district. When he approached Oxford Principal Brigitte Pronty about connecting her students more deeply to the outdoors, she embraced the concept and pointed Warner to the PTA, where President Alisa Bray communicated the idea to parents.

“Hands-on outdoor learning works. It engages the kids, and makes learning more possible. They respond strongly because it’s real life,” said Warner. Worm Composting in the Classroom: Bringing the Classroom to the Garden has Oxford first graders creating a worm bin and raising worms in their classroom. After the worm project, the first graders will start plants from seed and transplant them outside when weather permits in the spring. Warner helped broker the connection between the Oxford Garden and the school to create the Children’s Garden, just outside of the garden fence.

The New Heights in Learning program is informed by elementary ELA and science standards. Oxford first graders are working hard on writing skills, and Warner’s approach is ‘let’s make growth where you are,’ so children at all levels can succeed. “Children will recall and retell their experiences in writing, plus explore science concepts like living and non-living things, soil, and particle matter,” he said. The ultimate goal of the Oxford pilot is to help students model a composting program and learn about the effects of the food they eat on their personal health.

Through grants and grassroots efforts, Warner is determined to increase the connection between the outdoors and classrooms, but it’s child driven, in large part. At the beginning of the program, students respond to four prompts with questions like: what can you learn from the outdoors, and why should you work outdoors? It helps narrow in on what the kids want to learn from the outdoors.

“Oxford is looking to expand what we are doing with the first graders into a potential summer program, and eventually have the PTA adopt a plot so we can feed families in need,” said Oxford PTA President Alisa Bray. Monticello’s Future Teachers of America has even signed on to help with summer programming.

It’s obviously not all about academic curriculum. Many of the efforts in the garden will support social-emotional health and the district’s International Baccalaureate goals. “One day, we’d like to expand the gardens and support our children's "no bully" programs, using elements like buddy benches, and even homework benches, eventually.” “We have been focused on community, and what better way than to work with our elders in the community on this effort,” Bray said.

Warner is especially thrilled to launch New Heights in Learning programs at Oxford. “I’m really impressed with staff there. They are really focused,” he said. Outdoor learning programs in the district are already popular at Gearity and Boulevard, and Warner says, “I’m confident this will provide a work sample to show that this model works, and expand to other schools in the district.”

Oxford 1st Graders' Community Garden Ideas:

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