A North Side school continues weaving nature into its lessons thanks in part to a city-funded outdoor classroom originally built to enhance physical distancing during the pandemic.
Montessori Schoolhouse at 10711 Dreamland Drive recently completed construction of the permanent campus facility, which includes a “music wall” so students can learn about vibrations.
Money from a $75,000 COVID-19 recovery grant offered by San Antonio and administered by the nonprofit LiftFund supported construction of the outdoor classroom.
“Without the help of the grant, we would not have been able to create such a functional outdoor classroom that stayed true to the Montessori method,” said Luz Migdalia Ponce, founder and director of the school.
The institution is among 27 early childhood learning or day care centers to receive pandemic recovery grants from the city.
It also was among six such businesses and nonprofits awarded the largest grant amount of $75,000 each.
The campus, located north of Castle Hills, closed its doors in March 2020 at the outset of the global coronavirus outbreak.
Following requests from several essential-worker parents, Montessori Schoolhouse reopened for a summer session while ensuring the safety of students and teachers.
Campus officials developed plans for the outdoor classroom by building upon an established play area and adding the elements of the Montessori philosophy, which combines sensory-rich environments and hands-on experiences to benefit young children.
Ponce said her students quickly adapted to the early days of outdoor lessons. Teachers brought art materials, puzzles and building blocks at the pupils’ request.
“I honestly thought we would need to do a lot of pulling the children back from the playground to work on their numbers and letters,” Ponce said in a news release. “However, it was an insightful experience to see how well most of them regulated their time to seek out all types of challenges.”
Ponce said she and her colleagues also realized an outside classroom required a more organized environment to better incorporate the Montessori work used indoors.
Ponce heard about the recovery grant program that provided financial assistance to local small businesses and nonprofits, and opted to pursue it.
The approved grant funded the creation of a physical space outside for shelves, tables and chairs.
It also supported improvements to the playground that nurtured learning through the senses, including a music station, a garden, a climbing station and a tricycle track.
According to Ponce, Montessori Schoolhouse’s new outdoor classroom brings the curriculum into nature where classes spend most of their time, weather permitting.
Two teachers supervise each group —one instructor provides lessons, the other supervises the children participating in physical activities.
“The children are happier and more disciplined than we ever expected them to be. I believe this is because this environment suited their natural inclination towards broad choice(s) of mental and physical activity in nature,” Ponce said.
Alex Lopez, assistant city manager and interim economic development director, said the city is excited to hear from grant recipients about how funds helped them pivot during the outbreak and adapt to new business operations.
“Leveraging these opportunities can promote not just their economic recovery, but position them for success beyond the pandemic,” Lopez added.