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Outdoor classroom inspired by teen


Nicole Carter's lesson on environmental wear and tear took shape on the benches set up like mini-pews under the pine and maple trees. From that perch, her third-graders could see their lesson in front of them: The trees, with their exposed roots, showed ample evidence of erosion.

It was the second week of school and the second time since school started that Carter, a first-year teacher at Pot Spring Elementary in Timonium, had led her students outside to the newly built classroom under the clouds to spotlight her lessons or just enjoy the sunshine.

"I'll probably use it until it gets cold outside," she said.

The classroom at Pot Spring, under the window of the school's computer room, was designed and built over the summer as 15-year-old Stephen Koplin's Eagle Scout project.

It's made of sturdy wood, with a teacher's podium and three rows of angled benches close enough to the ground for even the youngest children's feet to touch. It's under the shadiest of shade trees. And best of all, it's outside.

During the change of seasons, "what better way to talk about different leaves and different trees," said Pot Spring Principal Paul Murrell. "You could weave so many things in the curriculum around it, it's amazing."

Murrell said he'd always admired the outdoor classroom at North Harford Elementary, where his wife works. So when Ko lin approached him about the Eagle project, he jumped at the chance - and even provided the money, just over $1,000 from the school's account, for the project.

Koplin, who came up with the idea and design with his father, did the rest, recruiting the volunteers to build it over the summer, returning to fix the podium after vandals tore off the hinges and carved into the wood - even setting up a dedication ceremony.

At the dedication, Koplin, who helped start a Christian group at Dulaney High School, arranged for local youth ministers to speak. Koplin told Pot Spring students that the classroom "wasn't really me. It was God working through me."

In an interview, Koplin said he had talked with four Baltimore County school principals before deciding on Pot Spring. Murrell, he said, was the "most enthusiastic and supportive" of the project.

Koplin, a sophomore at Dulaney and the junior assistant scoutmaster for Troop 828 in Lutherville, needs just two badges to earn Scouting's highest rank. He said he plans to earn those badges by early next year. "It's a personal goal," he said. "I feel I can do it, so why not go and try it out?"

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