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Groups pitch a beachside education

Plan is for outdoor classroom at Atwater

Dec. 9, 2009

Shorewood — New Horizons school, Friends of Atwater Beach and the Urban Ecology Center have combined their efforts in an attempt to build an outdoor classroom at Atwater Beach.

Friends of Atwater Beach member Alicia Urban, along with New Horizons students Clint Hays and Evan Clinkenbeard, presented a proposal to the Village Board on Monday for an outdoor classroom before the completion of the Atwater Master Plan.

Hays and Clinkenbeard told Village Board members that what they are proposing could offer an entirely new experience for city kids who normally do not have the opportunity to enjoy nature in the middle of Milwaukee. Bohdan Nedilsky, a faculty member at New Horizons, said New Horizon's contribution to the outdoor classroom would be the educational material. The program would be available through signups at the Urban Ecology Center, making it available to any school that wants to participate.

"We want to continue our mission of providing a learning experience that is interactive, connected to the community and connected to the environment," Nedilsky said.

The high school-aged students at New Horizons design lesson plans that are comparable to district requirements.

Proposal has two phases

Urban, the Friends of Atwater Beach member, described the classroom process as requiring two phases:

The first phase would utilize funds from a private donor to build a temporary outdoor classroom. This classroom would house kayaks and other equipment that the project members would need to teach their curriculum.

The second phase of the project would be to build a larger structure either in place of or in addition to the first structure.

"We want to bring people down to the beach," Urban said. "By building this classroom now, we can give this program some time to mature before the master plan is complete. More experience will allow us to have a design and a direct proposal, with a much clearer picture of what is needed."

Beachside learning

Children would use the structure for lessons such as animal tracking, kayaking, survival skills, photography, and testing water quality, erosion and pH levels.

Beth Fetterley, senior director of education and strategic planning at the Urban Ecology Center, said the Friends of Atwater Beach brought the project to her group.

"We talked to (Friends of Atwater Beach) about storing kayaks that we'd want to do in concert with the (Shorewood) recreation department at Atwater Beach," Fetterley said. "We've been doing water quality analysis with the New Horizons students.

"We're excited to continue to be able to teach these kids yet, and bring other schools down to learn about Lake Michigan, water quality and its ecosystems."

Donor is itching to get started

Urban said the group has a donor interested in funding the first phase of the venture who wishes to remain unnamed until the program is set into motion. The donor would like to begin the project soon, Urban said.

Village President Guy Johnson said he is excited for the classroom to be built, but noted that the Atwater Master Plan needs to be considered.

"A lot of my excitement comes from the partnerships - the Urban Ecology Center, New Horizons, Friends of Atwater Beach - you've got the right people involved," Johnson said.

The board requested that the proposal be brought to the January meeting to be discussed in conjunction with the Atwater Master Plan.

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