JAMES CITY — Elementary school students, elected officials, parents and teachers gathered Tuesday in the woods behind James River Elementary School.
The cause for the eclectic gathering was the official re-opening of two outdoor classrooms where James River students can now learn, surrounded by nature.
"I'm excited that we get a change of scenery and get to learn outside in the fresh air," said fifth-grader Claire Bauer, 10.
The classrooms had been covered with fallen trees for over a decade, the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel in 2003. But in May, the Parent Teacher Association decided to restore the two outdoor learning spaces.
Over the summer, teachers, parents and volunteers worked to clear brush, lay down mulch and build benches.
Now two classrooms sit in clearings accessible via a mulched trail behind the school and have benches and a teacher's table. Teachers can take their classes outside for lessons about nature, or just to change the learning environment.
Ashton Hart, 9, said he thinks getting to learn outdoors will help raise awareness about environmental issues.
"I'm excited that we are going to get to learn about nature a little bit more and be more in depth, and that we can help out the environment by watering trees and maybe planting new ones," Hart said.
James River Parent Teacher Association President Keisha Atwood said the PTA harnessed the help of several local businesses and organizations in completing the project.
Tiki Tree and Landscape cleared the fallen trees for half price, and Five Brothers Lawn Care sprayed the path for weeds for free.
The PTA received a $2,600 grant from the Home Depot Foundation, which paid for the materials needed to build the benches. A team of volunteers from the Williamsburg Home Depot brought the post-hole digger and the materials on Thursday and installed the benches.
James City County donated several truckloads of mulch to build the path, and Waters Edge Church sent about 20 volunteers to help spread the mulch.
"This is an ideal project because it enriches learning capacity for the children, but it helps the teachers as well," Atwood said.
McKinnon can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.