ALTON — Like Henry David Thoreau drew inspiration from nature for his writings, Cindy Inman hopes Rock Spring Park’s new outdoor classroom will serve as a “muse” for her school’s English classes — and all other classes — going forward.
Inman, the Alton Middle School principal, was among those on hand Thursday to unveil the new classroom at the Alton park, behind the tennis courts near the park’s main entrance. Also present were Alton Mayor Brant Walker, Rock Spring 2020 chairman Greg Gelzinnis — who orchestrated the event — and Sierra Club director Virginia Woulfe-Beile, among others.
In describing her vision for the new classroom, Inman said she hopes it becomes more than just a place to escape the four walls of nearby Alton Middle School.
“This outdoor classroom will provide our students with a place and a space that they can come outside and do experiments, and learn about our nature,” Inman said. “It will allow our teachers the opportunity to cover adaptation, reproduction of living organisms with hands-on, real-life experiences that mean more than any book that we can put in their hands. The teachers can discuss in-depth the impact the environment has. Students will be able to see firsthand how their behaviors can affect the environment both positively and negatively. But finally, this outdoor classroom is a place where teachers can bring their students to read, write and, most of all, enjoy this beautiful Rock Spring Park.”
The 20-foot by 32-foot pavilion was a collaborative effort spearheaded by Calvary Baptist Church’s Calvary Cares group, which funded the project and constructed the building in recent weeks. Gelzinnis’ Rock Spring 2020 committee, the city of Alton, Drug Free Alton Coalition, Alton School District, Sierra Club and Lewis and Clark Community College’s YouthBuild program have also played a part in helping rehabilitate the park in recent years.
The classroom is the first new development at the park in more than a decade, according to Gelzinnis.
“I guess I’ll just open with, wow. In two years, look where this park is,” Walker said during the ceremony. “I can’t believe where this park has come, and I can’t wait to see where it’s going.”
Inman said the school revamped its curriculum to conform with Next Generation Science Standards, a multi-state effort to create new education standards that are “rich in content and practice, arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally benchmarked science education,” according to the standards’ website. Inman said those include more hands-on, outdoor activities focused on the environment, animals and plant life, in part.
The classroom will be available for all classes to use, with Inman saying a sign-up sheet will be utilized to ensure it doesn’t get double-booked. Because the classroom is technically part of the school grounds — the physical education classes also make use of the nearby tennis courts, Inman said — teachers won’t have to hassle with permission slips when they want to use the classroom.
Many speakers talked about their personal memories of the park, including Alton Superintendent Mark Cappel. He said the park “means a lot to me personally” and called Thursday a great day for the school’s students.
Two of the school’s seventh-grade science classes attended for Thursday’s event. They have also been involved in the ongoing rehabilitation of the park, seventh-grade science teacher Sig Utgaard said.
“I’m really looking forward to working with our students out here because they’re the ones who are going to be leading all these projects, and they really work hard when they’re out here,” Utgaard said. “And that’s really cool.”