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Teacher building outdoor classroom

Buckingham County Middle School (BCMS) special education teacher Shane Vencil recently received two awards from the Peter Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District (PFSWCD) and Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ (VASWCD) for her conservation efforts in creating an outdoor classroom.

According to a news release from PFSWCD, the outdoor classroom would be “a functional, inspiring environment that encourages outdoor experiences for all students regardless of their mobility.”

Shane Vencil

Vencil had received a grant for the outdoor classroom and to provide professional development training for Buckingham County teachers in the Project Wet, WILD and Learning Tree curriculum for environmental education.

According to the release, Vencil created a resource team with Buckingham County Middle School Ecology Team, the Buckingham Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter, Buckingham County High School Agricultural and Building and Trades Classes, Buckingham Cooperative Extension, PFSWCD, Virginia Department of Forestry and Virginia Master Naturalists and Gardeners.

The outdoor classroom would include butterfly bushes and stationing bird feeders, houses and baths on each wing of the classroom. The feeders, houses and baths would be constructed by the Buckingham County High School Building and Trade class.

The classroom would also contain a dry river bed, a rain garden, flower gardens, a knot garden and an arboretum where markers will identify tree species. The

Zane Harshman

project will also expand raised beds, a composting facility and nature trails.

The classroom is also set to have an outdoor pavilion for instruction.

Trees for the arboretum have currently been planted with instruction of The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) by middle school students and representatives of VDOF, Buckingham Cooperative Extension and PFSWCD staff, the release cited.

BCMS Principal Zane Harshman said he had spoken with Vencil regarding the idea for the outdoor classroom.

“It was apparent that this is more than a project: it is something she is truly passionate about,” Harshman said in a statement. “She has spent countless hours researching, making contacts, and planning the different aspects of the project to ensure it is something viable for our students at the middle school.”

Harshman said the project will benefit students and teachers.

“All of the teachers and students can utilize the different components already in place, such as the arboretum, nature trail, and raised gardens,” Harshman said. “Some of the future plans include, butterfly bushes, a dry river bed, geometric garden, and signage.”

Harshman and Vencil thanked departments at Buckingham County Public Schools, VDOF and PFSWCD.

“I never dreamed that this small seed of an idea would lead to this experience,” Vencil said in a statement. “My idea would not have grown without the tremendous support of so many people. This award is not just for me, it is for everyone involved.”

“It is a great honor to have someone as dedicated and forward thinking as Vencil on the staff at BCMS,” Harshman said. “I have already seen some of the benefits of the outdoor classroom and I cannot wait to see the entire project come to fruition.”