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Hickory Grove Elementary School to Break Ground on Outdoor Learning Center

210519 Dunlap School Board Screenshot.png
The Dunlap District 323 Board of Education met Wednesday night, May 19, 2021.

Hickory Grove Elementary School will break ground on a new Outdoor Learning Center next week.

On Wednesday night, Hickory Grove Principal Jeremy Etnyre and Assistant Principal Michaela Rychener presented a site plan to the Dunlap District 323 Board of Education. The four-phase, multi-year construction plan will begin this summer with an entryway, covered stage, and garden.

The grounds eventually will feature a designated “classroom” space, climbing area, water feature, music and science areas, and more. In addition, a staff member on the planning committee is planning to start a gardening club to tend to raised garden beds and various fruit trees.

Etnyre expressed his excitement for the Center, saying that while the plan will require plenty of time and resources, the overall benefits will be worth it.

“It’s much more than just learning outdoors—it gives kids an opportunity to learn in ways that are not possible in a traditional classroom,” he said.. “Right now, we tell kids (to) stay out of the creek, and with an outdoor learning center, we’re going to be encouraging kids to be a part of nature.”

Etnyre and Rychener have been coordinating with a planning committee made up of parents and staff, along with Bruce Barnes, landscape architectural manager at Farnsworth Group. After visits to other regional outdoor learning sites, the Hickory Grove plan was created and Rychener hopes it will get students excited to be outdoors.

“The research is clear: nature is essential for a child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual development,” said Rychener. “It helps enhance creativity, self-discipline, and problem-solving skills.”

Funding for the project has come through the Parent Teacher Organization, grants, and various donations to the school, and according to Etnyre, the construction timeline will be based on available funds.

“We know that this is going to be a large project. It is going to take a lot of resources, time, effort, and energy,” said Etnyre. “We’re not going to let that stop us because we really believe in our vision and what’s possible.”

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Mike Rundle is a correspondent at WCBU. He joined the station in 2020.