Living to Serve: FFA grant expands outdoor learning
By Samantha Jones
The Eureka Springs FFA Club is using a year-long Living to Serve grant to grow outdoor learning opportunities at the school.
FFA sponsor Jason McAfee said the club received a $3,000 grant from the National FFA Organization to build an outdoor classroom, install a weather station and use water collection containers to irrigate the gardens around the classroom. McAfee said the year-long grant includes several project goals that tie back to the outdoor classroom, which is nearing the end of construction.
The biggest feature of the grant, McAfee said, is the weather station that is tied to websites like www.WeatherLink.com and www.Wunderground.com. The information from the weather station is uploaded to these sites, McAfee said, and he's working on getting it on the National Weather Service's website too.
"What's cool about this is I have a computer designated to this weather station," McAfee said, "which allows me to download all the data daily which then gets uploaded to the websites."
In the future, McAfee said, he hopes the information will be available for any member of the public to see.
"What's important there is we'll be tying that back to lesson plans," McAfee said. "I have a 10-day lesson plan where the students actually learn about how weather stations work and how to use the internet to observe weather."
McAfee added, "They'll also be tracking weather like a meteorologist. Then we'll start talking about forecasts and how the weather changes and various things that can impact that daily and in the long term. The weather side was about half the grant alone."
The rest of the grant focuses on sustainability in the outdoor classroom, McAfee said. He said the rain collectors will be responsible for watering all or most of the gardens planted near the classroom. The rain collector is a large water tank that feeds into the gutter system, McAfee said.
"So that'll be filled throughout the year any time it rains," McAfee said, "and the irrigation supplies we'll need to run the bed will also be covered under this grant. That will be a feature that will complement other sustainable technologies we're looking at adding, such as solar to power the whole classroom."
McAfee said he's even considering installing wind technology at the site.
"It's all about sustainability," McAfee said.
The project should have a few different outcomes, McAfee said, including a new junior master gardener program at Eureka Springs Elementary School. It's important to teach young children agriculture, McAfee said, because that makes them more likely to get involved with agriculture as they grow.
"That's a huge endeavor we are excited about," McAfee said. "That will be something we have to do in the springtime."
McAfee said he has a book with guided lesson plans for elementary school students, saying the students will work on their junior master gardener certification after school.
"Once they go through all the lessons," McAfee said, "they will get a junior master gardener certificate. We're hoping to increase overall agriculture awareness and possibly recruit some students for the future."
Another project goal, McAfee said, is to recruit up to 100 volunteers to support the outdoor classroom. McAfee said he hopes to work with citizens interested in pollinators, gardening and native plants. During the spring, McAfee said, FFA will invite these volunteers to the outdoor classroom to learn about the importance of outdoor learning.
"It will just be a general session to talk about different things we could be doing in the community or that the school could be involved with in the community," McAfee said, "that would help increase environmental awareness and increase sustainability as an overall outcome."
The last expected outcome of the project, McAfee said, is to help create an environmental council for the city of Eureka Springs.
"I know there's a lot of entities out there that are involved in various areas," McAfee said, "and I would like to work to bring them together and hopefully at least get a meeting of the minds at the outdoor classroom towards the end of spring or possibly early summer of next year."
McAfee continued, "We could explore new territories and open up some new doors for agriculture here at the school. It's all a matter of getting the right people scheduled, finding the right groups to work with, and getting them all together to hopefully plan some future goals for the community."
McAfee said he's excited to see where the grant takes FFA, saying he's looking forward to the junior master gardener program.
"Getting kids involved with agriculture at younger ages can make a very big impact," McAfree said.
McAfee invited the community to get involved with the grant, whether that's working on the junior master gardener program or joining the environmental council.
"This grant requires volunteers and I'm looking to find new areas for the students to be involved in volunteer work or job positions working in agriculture-related fields," McAfee said. "My overall goal is working with these different entities will open up some new doors for the kids themselves."