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East Grand School Lays Groundwork for Outdoor Classroom

Posted Feb. 5, 2016

This week, East Grand School began the process of developing a woodlot adjacent to the school into an outdoor classroom.  Principal Dawn Matthews spent a Friday afternoon trekking through the snow to get a better sense of how the site might be best utilized to bring all the benefits of a traditional classroom into an outdoor setting. 

Retired forester John Ribe guided Mrs. Matthews through the forest, offering advice on how to utilize the property to best serve the students. Also accompanying Mrs. Matthews were Outdoor Education instructor Dave Conley and PE teacher Tammi Matula. The trek, organized by Mrs. Matthews and Ms. Matula, was the culmination of months of preparatory work securing land and funding for the project. 

The concept of the outdoor classroom was a joint effort of East Grand School and the Citizens Organization for Rural Education (CORE). CORE was formed to help East Grand School continue to deliver a high-quality educational experience to the children of the Washington County and southern Aroostook County regioni. After spending time investigating various options, the group concluded that the most effective way to make East Grand stand out was sitting just outside the school’s back doors. CORE’s plan called for making outdoor education a central part of the school’s culture, beginning with the creation of an outdoor classroom. Together with CORE, Tammi Matula set about searching for ways to turn their vision into reality. In the snowy woods behind the school, that vision began to take solid form as Mrs. Matthews and her companions took a first-hand look at what will eventually be a place of learning. 

Funding for the development of the outdoor classroom was made possible through a grant by the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation. The grant provides funds for a legal land survey, the design and layout, and the costs of construction. Much of the labor will be provided on a volunteer basis by members of the East Grand School community.

The vast natural resources of Aroostook and Washington County have always been a vital part of the region’s economy and culture. Timber harvesting, gravel excavation, hunting, fishing, and outdoor tourism are deeply woven into the lives and culture of the area’s residents. The outdoor classroom will enable the school to celebrate the importance of the natural world in the lives of its students.  Teachers will have opportunities to provide their students with direct experience, enabling those students to develop a deeper understanding of the world and their place in it. Curriculum for K-12 will include outdoor activities that will act as a complement to conventional education. 

Design work on the classroom is expected to begin in the spring, with construction slated for late spring and summer. If all goes as scheduled, the classroom will be available by the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.

East Grand OE Students Harvest Chaga

Posted Feb. 5, 2016

The Students of East Grand’s Outdoor Education program spent an afternoon in the woods learning how to harvest and properly use the Chaga mushroom. Chaga is a naturally occurring parasitic fungi that attacks birches and other species of trees. It’s often found in wet areas along waterways, and is known for its distinctive charcoal-colored exterior and gold interior. Instructors Dave Conley and Tammi Matula showed the students how to locate and harvest Chaga, and then provided guidance as they brewed it into a medicinal tea. Many people believe the Chaga mushroom contains valuable health benefits. While the benefits of Chaga are still being studied, there’s no question the students benefitted from their experience. While they learned about Chaga tea, they also gained valuable knowledge about sustainable harvesting practices and about the ways plants, animals and fungi interact in the local ecosystem.

East Grand Brings Rock Climbing To Its Youngest Students

Posted Feb. 5, 2016

East Grand School’s outdoor education program provides students with opportunities to develop confidence and leadership skills in an outdoor setting. Thanks to a generous contribution from Machias Savings Bank, the program welcomed East Grand’s youngest students for a session of rock climbing.  Physical Education instructor Tammi Matula has been exploring new and interesting ways to deliver quality instruction to her students since taking over the role in 2013. She approached Machias with the idea of making rock climbing available to younger students, citing the sport’s physical and emotional benefits. She was rewarded with a generous grant that enabled her to move forward with the program. 

The Machias contribution provided youth-sized harnesses, enabling even the smallest students to safely climb the artificial rock wall located in East Grand’s gymnasium.  Outdoor Education teacher Dave Conley and Physical Education teacher Tammi Matula supervised the adventure, assisted by students from Mr. Conley’s Outdoor Education class. Older students had the opportunity to act as mentors, helping the younger children properly adjust their harnesses and encouraging them as they took their first tentative steps up the climbing wall.  

The students gained confidence after just one rock climbing session. Alexis Rose is a pre-K student, and she approached the prospect of rock climbing with trepidation. Ms. Matula explained, “She was quick to inform me on our way to P.E. that she was ‘afraid of highers’. However, Alexis was first from her class on the wall and then exclaimed with excitement, ‘I’m not afraid of highers anymore!’ That was what we all worked on to varying degrees.” 

Rock climbing is just one part of the school’s strategy to incorporate the outdoors into all facets of the educational experience. 

East Grand School Book Fair a Smashing Success 

Posted Jan. 7, 2016

East Grand School partnered with publishing giant Scholastic to hold a book fair in December. The event helped promote a love of reading by offering a wide variety of books for sale to the students and their parents. The fair sold approximately 384 books, which translates to an average of two books per child. According to Scholastic, this means that East Grand student will add 69,035 voluntary reading minutes to their already busy schedules. In an age where the computer screen dominates everything else, this is a remarkable achievement. Events such as this help children discover the joy of losing themselves in a good book, and reinforce the importance of reading as a critical life skill. 

Juanita Crone Honored For Her Work at East Grand 

Posted Jan. 7, 2016

In December, East Grand School honored Juanita Crone for her tireless efforts to ensure every child has a warm pair of mittens for the winter. For the last ten years, every child in the elementary school has received a pair of mittens. This year, she was honored at a small ceremony, surrounded by the students she has served. Principal Dawn Matthews presented Mrs. Crone with a basket full of cards and gifts from grateful students. 


Students use Oak Tag to Explore Science

Posted Jan. 7, 2016 - Revised Jan. 8, 2016

For almost twenty years, the Oak Tag Rally has been a tradition at East Grand School. Science teacher Andy Latvis made the Rally one of the most anticipated events of the school year. The event centers around oaktag cars, which the students design and then build out of cardstock. Racing their paper cars down a wooden track, generations of East Grand students have learned the basics of Newton’s Laws of Motion. Along the way, students learn to take a design from concept to reality, explore mathematical ideas such as surface area and statistics, and most importantly to the students, they find out who has the fastest car. 

After Mr. Latvis’ untimely death last year, the students were adamant that the Rally would remain a part of their school year. Several students vowed to construct cars with or without an official competition. Middle school and high school faculty members incorporated oak tag racing into their coursework, keeping the Rally alive.

 The 2015 Oak Tag Rally boasted five divisions based on the students’ grade levels, and an Open Division for faculty and upper-class students.  Cars competed for fastest time and longest distance before going head to head in a drag-racing tournament.  A car show capped off the event, enabling students to showcase their design and decorating skills.  All students and staff from Pre-K to grade 12 were invited to view the cars and vote for their favorites in each division. Cars from years past were displayed in a special Antique Section as a tribute to Mr. Latvis. He built a car every year, partly to model the project for his students, but mostly because it was something he loved to do, and his passion is evident in every car he designed. 

 Each Division in this year’s Rally featured an overall Division Champion, with separate honors for the winners of the car show. Winners have the honor of seeing their names added to the Latvis Cup, where their names sit in a place of honor alongside those of past Champions.  Isaac Crone took home both the overall honors and Best in Show for the 6th Grade division. In the 7Th Grade, Nathanial Farr was the overall champion, with Benji Gilman receiving Best in Show honors.  Noah Sixberry took both categories in the 8th Grade. In the 9th grade, Sydney Cowger captured both titles. Thomas Gilman took top honors in the 10th grade, while Aaron Sixberry’s car was voted Best in Show. The highly competitive Open Division pitted faculty members against veteran student car designers. Peter Apgar, a junior, took the overall title, while math teacher Jennifer Gilman walked away with Best in Show. 

Mr. Latvis believed that learning through experience was the most effective way to teaching scientific concepts, and the Oaktag Rally continues to be a shining example of his vision.