California Educator

June/July 2021

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Page 40 of 55

"Outdoor learning environments are effective tools to help students learn. Being outdoors also helps reduce stress and increases students' productivity and creativity." —Heather Farrell, Unified Association of Conejo Teachers students learn. Being outdoors also helps reduce stress and increases students' productivity and creativity." She made phone calls and sent emails seeking more information and checking the viability of the project. She was often told no along the way. But she never gave up. Ironically, the sponsor was right in her own backyard. Schneider Electric happened to be installing the school's new air conditioning system in 2018. Farrell convinced program manager Marc Starkey that building this one-of-a-kind classroom would serve as an impressive promotional tool for future projects, and Schneider Elec- tric donated $250,000 to build it. Her new principal, Eric Bergmann, jumped on the bandwagon for the SOLE, which received approval from the school board in 2020. " The details were worked out between myself, Dr. Bergmann, the district office and Schneider," recalls Farrell. "I picked the location and told them my wish list, and then Schneider went looking for donors and partnerships to find everything we needed." Partners included M Bar C Construction, Baker Electric, STS Edu- cation, FlexGround, MeTEOR Education, and Rexel USA. The social-emotional component Farrell, who has been teaching virtually since March 2020, plans on using the SOLE as often as possible when she resumes in-person teaching this fall. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony in April, she and students who attended the school's hybrid classes demonstrated some of the SOLE's groundbreaking capabilities to commu- nity members. Students planted a garden of succulents nearby for the occasion. "e students said 'is is so cool!' and told me they couldn't wait to use it." Farrell believes that being outside makes students feel better in general, which makes them more open to learning. "Now more than ever, students need social-emotional support. Connecting them with nature and teaching them outdoors can be part of that process." It's also a way to demonstrate that fighting climate change is possible. "is outdoor classroom shows students that we have the technology to make smarter and better choices and that positive change can happen," Farrell declares. "e SOLE shows students we can build a brighter future and use our resources in sustainable ways. It's going to be a very powerful teaching tool." Clockwise, from top left: At the opening in April, Heather Farrell demonstrating how the 86-inch touch screen TV works; students from her AP Environmental Science class; a student plants succulents; Farrell and others at the ribbon-cutting ceremony; depiction of the SOLE once it is up and running this fall. 39 J U N E / J U L Y 2 0 21

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