Outdoor Classroom Opens Doors at Visitation School
The outdoor classroom at Visitation in Mendota Heights is being expanded with a new building.
When Zindy Mooney teaches middle school science lessons at Convent of the Visitation School, she makes a tremendous mess.
“Right now I have 250 pounds of sand in a garbage can in my classroom,” she said, laughing. “The custodians absolutely hate this unit, because there is sand all over the floor for a month,” she said of her curriculum demonstrating earth movement.
The life and earth science teacher is enthusiastic about moving some of these less tidy lessons to a more appropriate place. Luckily for Mooney, Visitation has just broken ground on an expansion of their popular outdoor classroom.
The current outdoor classroom space, dedicated in 2007, has been a boon to Visitation’s curriculum, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs.
“Students of all ages use the outdoor classroom,” said Lisa Shaughnessy, director of advancement at Visitation, “from the little ones to seniors. Science classes are responsible for maintaining the plants; students study the water. Art classes use the area. Choirs and orchestra have practiced out here. And now we are lucky enough to expand the space.”
Workers recently broke ground on the 1,800-square-foot Webber Building to augment the outdoor area. The building will have classroom space, a greenhouse, restrooms and an area for the tennis and cross-country ski teams.
“All of the functions of the new building came from requests by teachers and students. The main room will be a place for classes to meet and interact with nature without worrying about a mess, the Nordic ski team will be able to wax and store their skis. People using the area will have a convenient restroom,” Shaughnessy said.
The original outdoor classroom features a small building, an open-air meeting area, sculptures, pathways and a long dock stretching into a pond. Named “Hanky’s Garden,” the space is dedicated to former Visitation trustee Henrietta Rauenhorst. Memorials in honor of Rauenhorst’s close friends, Mary and Paul Webber, provided the funds for the new building. The Webber family sent their daughters to Visitation and stayed connected to the school.
The building in their honor will be completed later this fall.
According to Mooney, the current outdoor classroom has a significant impact on the students using it, and the addition will heighten the impact.
“For now, there is little we can do outdoors in the winter,” Mooney said. “This year, we’ll be able to study throughout the winter, as we grow in the greenhouse and continue to gather in the new space. It will make a world of difference. When the kids are just chomping at the bit to get something done out there, we’ll be able to do it.”