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Outdoor learning at Chamisa

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Education > Chamisa is the first to build such a structure

By Tris DeRoma

Chamisa is the first school to get one, and others may soon follow.
Thanks to a $10,000 grant provided by the Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation, Chamisa Elementary School recently set up its first outdoor classroom, a geodesic structure located just behind the main building.
The school’s principal, Debbie Smith, is sure the school will get multiple uses out of it for years to come. Ecology, alternative energy, Earth sciences, biology, and botany are just some of the planned uses for the building, she said.
The grant to build the impressive-looking structure came through the Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation. According to Joanna Gillespie, the grant was a result of a donation from the Ed and Betty Rynd estate.
“One of the things we elected to do with the funds as a way to honor them was to name an outdoor classroom at each of the seven schools after them,” Gillespie said. “They were a couple that was very dedicated to community service and education. Those are values that the foundation also holds dear, and we thought this was a good way to honor their memory.”
Chamisa, as will the other schools, had some leeway as to the classroom’s design and function.
Smith got the idea for Chamisa’s classroom after visiting an exhibition that featured geodesic buildings built by Growing Spaces, a Colorado-based company that specializes in building geodesic domes of different sizes in functions.
“They had their grow domes on display and I thought Wow!” Smith said. “They came along just when we were trying figure out what we were going to do for our outdoor classroom.”
Chamisa’s dome will feature garden beds for growing plants as well as a special water-based heating and cooling system that will keep the dome cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It will also be powered by electricity.
The project began while school was still in session, and Smith said the students are very intrigued and excited about the new structure. Every recess, they come over to see what’s going on,” she said, adding that members of the community have also chipped in to build the structure. Some of the people that helped build the structure included Smith’s husband, high school students Michael Archuletta and Ben Mitzunaga and Los Alamos School Board Secretary Matt Williams.
Mountain Elementary was also awarded a Rynd grant through the LAPSF. Mountain is currently halfway through its project.