Coastal Rivers & GSB School collaborate to create outdoor learning space

Coastal Rivers & GSB School collaborate to create outdoor learning space

A new way to bring learning outside

Thanks to a partnership between Coastal Rivers and Great Salt Bay Community School (GSB), students at the school have a beautiful new outdoor gathering space, in the form of a 24’ diameter yurt.

A circular, tent-like structure, the yurt features an oiled wood frame, double insulation, and windows, and will have electricity and heat once complete. The yurt is a gift to the school from Coastal Rivers, with funding made possible by the generosity of Coastal Rivers members, friends, supporters and volunteers.

base of yurt assembledThe project arose out of the need for space to support the school’s growing outdoor and environmental education programming. According to Jill Davis, School Counselor at GSB, being outdoors in nature is important for students’ mental and physical health and well-being.

Engaging students in the natural world has also been shown to help advance curricular goals and learning outcomes, particularly among students who perform best through kinetic or tactile learning. Accordingly, the administration places a high priority on getting kids outside.

floor of yurt assembledThis goal aligns closely with Coastal Rivers’ efforts to connect people of all ages with the outdoors, especially youth.

“Through experiences in the woods, wetlands, fields and shores of this area, our kids develop a strong sense of place and learn to care about our natural resources,” explains Executive Director Steven Hufnagel. “They will be our next generation of land and water stewards.”

Coastal Rivers has been partnering with GSB for years to offer innovative outdoor education programs. “Math in the Woods” combines learning basic math skills with a 45-minute walk in the woods led by Education Director Sarah Gladu to explore, collect, and observe part of the natural environment. The Damariscotta Estuarine Education Program (DEEP), invites 6th graders to design and implement their own research project pertaining to the estuary. Yet another program, Wabanaki Ways, provides an introduction to indigenous material culture by placing students in the very location where native Americans once lived, harvested wild edibles, fished, and made tools. And the list goes on.

hoisting up the center ringGSB and Coastal Rivers view the yurt as an ideal launchpad for outdoor education. Davis said teachers are already asking about reserving the space for their classes once it’s completed. While outdoor programming will take priority, teachers have also expressed interest in using the space for reading and art classes.

The circular structure, with natural wood accents, is bright and welcoming. “It’s a beautiful, comforting space for learning,” said Davis.

Steven on a ladder inside the domeCoastal Rivers is immensely grateful to the local businesses and community members who contributed services, time and financial support. Adam Maltese of A. Maltese Design donated many hours of design and drafting services, and volunteered to coordinate construction of the yurt. When the structure could not be assembled in 2018 as hoped, and there was no room indoors to store the crates in which the parts were delivered, Nathaniel Herron of Atlantic Tent Company provided a temporary tent to cover them. Herron visited frequently over the course of the winter on his own time to keep the tent in place during all manner of storms. Hammond Lumber transported all the oversized crates to GSB on a truck when the time came to assemble the yurt.

Under Maltese’s guidance, a team of volunteers spent three days assembling the structure. The team included parents and staff from GSB as well as staff and volunteers from Coastal Rivers.

yurt almost complete, in the snow

Photos courtesy of Jill Davis, Hannah McGhee and Kim Schaff.