On Wednesday, October 20, 2021, the students in Robbi Berry’s fifth-grade class at Monte Vista Elementary, known as the “Berry Bunch” got a special visit from Gwen Perea Warniment, Ph. D., Deputy Secretary of Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, for the New Mexico Public Education Department. For the past several weeks, students have been preparing their ideas and prototypes for an outdoor learning classroom to present to Dr. Warniment.

During Dr. Warniment’s visit on Wednesday morning, the Berry Bunch were thrilled to learn that they will be the first Elementary School in the state to receive funding to build an outdoor classroom that will accommodate the ideas they were tasked with presenting to the deputy secretary and district leaders.

Each student in Robbi Berry’s fifth-grade class presented their models and discussed why they and other students will benefit from hands-on learning by taking the classroom outdoors.

“I was so excited and pleased to learn that the Berry Bunch had been selected to serve as the example for New Mexico’s outdoor learning initiative,” said Berry. “The students this year and last had worked very hard to bring this to fruition and their recognition is well deserved.”

Students shared their prototypes with different shade structures and landscape models for their outdoor classroom and expressed why outdoor learning will provide a more simulating environment for students for years to come.

“Future students will not only enjoy the benefits provided by an outdoor learning option, but they will also be able to draw inspiration from knowing that the opportunity came about directly from student led efforts,” Berry added.  “It will serve as tangible proof of what they can accomplish as well if they apply themselves.”

LCPS Superintendent Ralph Ramos was proud to announce that $10,000 will be allocated to Monte Vista Elementary to bring their unique project to life. Superintendent Ramos also announced that $500,000 will be dispersed to schools throughout the district to follow suit in promoting facilities that will house outdoor learning for students.

“Seeing students take initiative and develop ideas for this project to lead the state in outdoor learning just shows the type of brainpower in our classrooms at Las Cruces Public Schools,” said Superintendent Ralph Ramos. “The Berry Bunch will be leaving their legacy for other students and that’s something to be proud of.”

During the 2020-2021 school year, the Berry Bunch class from last year were invited to speak at the state senate in support of outdoor classrooms. Students drafted a memorial and asked legislators for a task force dedicated to explore ideas involving learning spaces outdoors. Legislators were able to get the memorial passed on February 24, 2021.

The legislation and approval of outdoor classrooms was kindled by the Wild Friends Program, a civics education program at the University of New Mexico School of Law, giving young students an opportunity to draft legislative documents on wildlife based issues for nearly three decades. The program integrates civics and wildlife law to help students in grades 4-12 understand the democratic process, develop good citizenship skills, and contribute to wildlife conservation by involving them in public policy projects of their choosing. Berry has been involved in the Wild Friends program and was excited to help bring outdoor learning to Monte Vista Elementary.

The next steps for the student’s outdoor projects will be to review all prototypes and combine the best elements from each design to develop the official classroom design for Monte Vista Elementary. A few members of the Berry Bunch will testify live via Zoom during the legislative session in November to talk about their outdoor classroom project and what students have been able to accomplish since the start of the project.

The last step for the Berry Bunch will be to visit the roundhouse during the upcoming legislative session to advocate for outdoor classrooms across the state of New Mexico.

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— Samantha Lewis, LCPS Public Relations Coordinator, 575-635-9303, slewis@lcps.net