From The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE)

House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, Mayor Frank Picozzi, Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, and the Rhode Island Department of Education joined school district leaders, students, and staff at Wyman Elementary School to award $7.5 million in RIDE’s Learning Inside Out Outdoor Classroom grants. In total, 89 projects across 29 local education agencies (LEAs) will receive grants to create, enhance, and support access to natural resources for all students in the form of outdoor classrooms or schoolyard habitats. An additional $500,000 will support professional development throughout the state.

“I am thrilled that seven Warwick schools will receive funding through the Learning Inside Out initiative, which is a testament to the dedication and hard work of our teachers and staff,” said House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi. “Our school system is one of many reasons Warwick is such a great place for families to live, and with 39 miles of coastline, our community has very diverse natural habitats and is ideal for students to be learning about the environment around them.”

The Learning Inside Out Outdoor Classroom Initiative promotes environmental literacy and community connection, as well as addresses problems such as inequitable access to the outdoors, habitat loss and degradation, and climate change.

“The Council is pleased to approve dozens of impactful Learning Inside Out projects across Rhode Island,” said Chair of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education Patti DiCenso. “Studies have shown that exposure to nature and outdoor learning environments leads to improved concentration, increased engagement, and enhanced cognitive abilities. By taking our lessons outdoors, we create an environment that nurtures holistic development and supports the unique learning styles of each student.”

“Outdoor learning encourages students to embrace their innate sense of exploration and discovery, igniting a lifelong love for learning. It teaches them resilience, adaptability, and problem-solving skills while developing a deep appreciation for the beauty and diversity of the world,” said Commissioner Infante-Green. “We are thrilled to approve dozens of projects that will plant the seeds of inspiration in our children and show our students and educators does not have to be confined to four walls, regardless of their zip code.”

“I’m very excited about the Learning Inside Out Outdoor Classroom Initiative,” said Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi. “We can never stop trying to be innovative in our quest to teach young minds. Programs like this will help to stimulate and motivate our children to learn.”

$3.75 million of the grant funds will support projects in the urban core and $4.7 in the urban ring. The Providence Public School District (PPSD) received $2.6 million to fund projects at 26 school campuses across the city.

“Urban areas often present unique challenges when it comes to environmental education, and for too long, many of our students and educators have gone without robust outdoor learning experiences. As part of the Turnaround of Providence Public Schools and our bold 21st-century school facilities plan, PPSD is committed to expanding green space and ensuring students understand the importance of environmental stewardship,” said Superintendent Dr. Javier Montañez. “We are proud of our many PPSD students and educators who are leading the way in areas such as sustainability and look forward to furthering that knowledge and appreciation through outdoor classrooms.”

RIDE’s School Building Authority has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide local education agencies (LEAs) with additional resources and technical support. Professional consultants for landscape design and professional development/educational commissioning services shall be provided by the State, at no cost to LEAs.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proud to work alongside RIDE and our community partners to support the design and creation of outdoor learning spaces at Rhode Island’s schools,” said Audrey Mayer, Project Leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s New England Field Office. “These areas can provide an opportunity for students to engage with nature and steward habitat for local wildlife such as pollinators and migratory birds. These spaces are critical to promoting restoration and connectivity of wildlife habitat across the landscape.”

Led by educator Heather Clark and parent Dr. Virginia Lund, Wyman Elementary School conducted extensive educator, student, and family engagement to learn more about what the school community would like to see created through the Learning Inside Out initiative. Through surveys, group conversations, and a hands-on “Learning Inside Out Investigation” classroom activity, Wyman Elementary School submitted its plan for “Wyman in the Wild.” The project features three distinct but connected outdoor learning spaces, which will include meandering paths, native pollinator gardens, a small pond, performance space, scattered log seating, storage shed, nature trail, trailhead kiosk, story walk signs, picnic tables, and more. The plans place an emphasis on curriculum integration, student collaboration, and community engagement.

Wyman Elementary School student drawings and submissions to the “Learning Inside Out Investigation.” (Courtesy Wyman Elementary School)

“Warwick is excited to be part of this innovative opportunity. There are seven schools in Warwick that designed and submitted outdoor learning spaces,” said Superintendent Lynn Dambruch. “This initiative gives students an opportunity to experience learning beyond the four walls of a classroom. Learning in an outdoor environment will encourage students to explore, wonder and experience inquiry-based learning. It will foster curiosity in a motivational and natural environment. I am grateful to RIDE’s School Building Authority and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for providing our teachers and students with this opportunity.”

RENDERING: “Wyman Wonders” is one of three distinct, but connected, “Wyman in the Wild” projects that will be funded through Learning Inside Out. On Wyman Elementary School’s west lawn, meandering paths will wind through native plant pollinator gardens and a small pond, situated around a hardscaped gathering place for class meetings, outdoor performances like poetry readings, and other community gatherings. Scattered log seating around the garden beds provides space for children to take their reading and writing outdoors in a calming natural environment.

RIDE will work with vendors to simplify the procurement process and provide a special focus on opportunities for minority-owned businesses.

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