116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
TIFFIN — Clear Creek Amana seventh-grader Emma Staebler said she has never eaten an orange bell pepper, but she planted one this week in the school’s new outdoor classroom.
Clear Creek Amana Middle School earned an environmental education award this year for its outdoor classroom in recognition of its contributions to the advancement of environmental literacy in Iowa. The award was from the Iowa Association of Naturalists and the Iowa Conservation Education Coalition.
The outdoor classroom provides students the opportunity to be outside and engaged physically, cognitively, psychologically and socially.
The award — named the Sylvan Runkel Environmental Education Award — was named in honor of an educator who believed strongly in the value of direct experience with the environment and who co-authored four books on Iowa plants and natural history.
This week, seventh-graders in a Clear Creek Amana Middle agriculture class weeded, tilled and planted flowers, bell peppers and carrots and other vegetables in the outdoor classroom.
Emma, 13, enrolled in the agriculture class because she thought it would be fun to study food science and get hands-on learning outside.
Bailey Simpson, 13, enrolled to learn where her food comes from.
“It’s fun to experience,” Bailey said. “Some schools don’t even offer agriculture classes.”
Alyssa Amelon, Clear Creek Amana agriculture teacher and FFA adviser, began incorporating more environmental-minded lessons a few years ago to teach students how to be “good stewards of the land,” she said.
About 75 students are a part of Clear Creek Amana Community School District’s agriculture program and FFA.
The outdoor classroom is a “hands-on laboratory” for students to try their hand at gardening. They will learn about cover crops, compostable soil and different ways to grow produce, Amelon said.
Extra produce will be donated to local food pantries.
“Some of our students have never picked up a shovel before or spent time learning where their food comes from,” Amelon said.
The outdoor classroom is a work in progress and is “constantly evolving,” Amelon said. During summer 2021, raised garden beds were placed in the area outside the middle school and landscaping done.
The idea for the outdoor classroom started in 2019 as a way to get students learning outside.
“We hope it’s an inviting location for people to stop, sit down, take a break, enjoy the flowers and reap some produce,” Amelon said.
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