INK! (Investing in Kids) recently helped fund a new learning space for students at Julington Creek Elementary at 2316 Race Track Road in Fruit Cove, Florida for an outdoor learning space. Grants provided by Wells Fargo through the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations and the Community First Cares Foundation funded the project. According to Donna Lueders, INK!’s executive director, the Academy of Environmental Sciences and the Teaching Academy at Creekside High School collaborated with elementary school students in the service-learning project. High school students actively built garden beds, added native landscaping, developed sensory experiences, and created engaging lessons to share with younger students for a direct experience to teach and learn during World Water Day on March 22. Student teaching took place in rotational groups throughout the morning and early afternoon activities with a ‘Water Passport’ to track learning experiences.
Jeanette Murphy, Julington Creek Elementary School’s Principal initiated the unique project and permanent outdoor learning plan in 2020 with Alicia “Ali” Pressel, St. Johns County School District secondary school science teacher at Creekside High School and 2020-2021 St. Johns County Teacher of the Year.
Pressel’s expertise to lead the efforts includes teaching in the St. Johns County Career Academies program, the Academy of Environmental Sciences, and Advanced Placement Environmental Science. She sponsors the Environmental Club and the Geospatial Mapping with a focus on project-based learning and STEM initiatives. Pressel is also a 2020 National Geographic Emerging Explorer. Pressel implemented the St. Johns County School District’s approved program with Creekside’s Academy of Future Teachers Instructor, Regan Ashker on the “place-based learning” concept. Also, Abra Murrell, Julington Creek Elementary clerk and local gardening enthusiast, was actively involved with teachers and students in designing and planting the new outdoor space.
The permanent installation includes outdoor areas with a Wacky Watersheds and Fun 2.0 space where students learn about the water cycle, watersheds, and aquatic health through interactive lessons with resources from the St. Johns River Water Management District. A Nifty Natives area features the importance of native landscaping in the community, and about pollination through a student-developed sensory activity. The Rock N’ Roll location encourages students to understand rock cycles, rock types, and the importance of limestone in the development of the Florida aquifer. Sifting through Soils helps students to learn about soil layers and the importance of soil resources in water filtration. Green Thumbs Up! features gardening basics and the opportunity for students to plant their own seeds.
Plans include the opportunity for additional local schools to implement similar learning environments and curricula. For more information contact Donna Lueders at 904-547-7120 or email Donna.Lueders@stjohns.k12.fl.us. Visit the website at www.ink-stjohns.org.
The St. Johns County Education Foundation operates as INK! (Investing in Kids) and has an ongoing mission to provide innovative programs, classroom resources and teacher support to benefit the academic success of students in the St. Johns County School District, Fla. INK! promotes academic success for all St. Johns County public school students by providing innovative programs and resources to support over 47,000 students and approximately 2,785 teachers. The office is located at 1 Christopher St. in St. Augustine.
About the Community First Cares Foundation
The Community First Cares Foundation, founded by Community First Credit Union, is a non-profit community foundation that grants funds to improve the quality of life in North Florida. The foundation supports activities to improve financial literacy, enhance the quality of our educational system, upgrade the health and welfare of our community and help underserved citizens. The Community First Cares Foundation makes contributions to nonprofit organizations that serve the communities on the First Coast. For more information, visit www.CommunityFirstCares.org or call 904-371-8090.