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Buckingham unveils new outdoor classroom

Buckingham Elementary School second grade teacher April Eichelberger and students pose for a photo following the ribbon cutting of the new outdoor classroom last Thursday.

By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer

(April 25, 2019) Buckingham Elementary School unveiled its new outdoor classroom at a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Thursday after taking steps to go green over the past several years.

“It’s been a joy to watch this vision grow as more people become invested,” said second grade teacher April Eichelberger.

Eichelberger, the green team coordinator, said the school was recognized as a Maryland Green School last May by the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education.

Eichelberger said the program began in 2015 when she was talking with teacher (the late) Sheryl Mitrecic, who received a grant to create a vegetable garden for pre-kindergarten students. Eichelberger added she had prior experience with environmental programs when teaching at a school in Oregon.

Eichelberger said the school has received about $13,500 in grants, as well as construction assistance from local organizations and businesses. Elementary school students and staff also volunteered.

Principal Karen Marx praised Eichelberger’s efforts in making their environmental dreams a reality.

“We are so proud of the passion and leadership, perseverance and dedication that Mrs. Eichelberger has demonstrated over the past four years,” Principal Karen Marx said of Eichelberger.

“Even through very trying personal circumstances, she has fulfilled our dream of becoming a Maryland Green School and created this beautiful learning space for all of our students and staff to enjoy,” she continued.

Eichelberger was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma last April and said she’s currently in remission.

Mitrecic lost her battle with cancer in May 2017, but a bench in the classroom was dedicated in her honor during last Thursday’s ceremony. Her husband, Worcester County Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic, and his daughter, Madi, were present for the dedication.

A group of elected officials, members of the Board of Education, students, teachers, and parents also attended the event.

For Jeff Smith, president of the parent-teacher association at Buckingham Elementary School, he said he feels this project could act as a respite from the confinements of devices used indoors.

“Technology really can restrict our world and I think something like this teaches the kids at a very young age that we don’t have to be stuck inside looking at our phones all the time,” he said.

Additionally, several educators said the outdoor classroom also could be used to teach subjects such as English and science.

Karen Conner, an English learner teacher at Buckingham Elementary School, said they received a $750 grant to study the life cycle of monarch butterflies.

Conner added a “story walk” and migration station were integrated into the new outdoor classroom.

“We were able to, because of this outdoor learning space, … participate in authentic learning experiences while we were still celebrating the heritage and the culture of our Spanish-speaking students,” Conner said.

Eichelberger said she hoped the lessons from the green school initiatives lessons would stick with the children long after they leave the classroom.

“The culture at our school is becoming more aware of the environ[mental] footprint that we leave behind, and I’m excited to see how our Buckingham graduates make a difference in our community in the years to come,” Eichelberger said.