TJ’s Outdoor Classroom Goes Global

Siri and Lydia Grund's view from the Indian Ocean. . .

Siri and Lydia Grund's view from the Indian Ocean. . .

Falls Church Times Staff

It has been observed that with a plan, a map, and some courage, any person can achieve some level of success as they press ahead through life pursuing their dreams. For the students about to begin their school year at Thomas Jefferson Elementary, dreams for the future are abundant, most of the plans are a little fuzzy, courage levels vary from Wonder Womanesque to the Cowardly Lion, and there is a brand new map of the world in which their dreams will play out one way or another.

The large map – a twenty by thirty-six foot Mercator projection of the Earth – was finished over the Labor Day weekend thanks to the efforts of the City of Falls Church Elementary School PTA and a handful of young cartographers.  Painted with acrylic latex paint on the asphalt adjacent to the playground and ball fields, it is one of the latest additions to the Falls Church City Outdoor Classroom initiative supported by the PTA and the Education Task Group of the Falls Church Environmental Services Council.

“We’re hoping it looks like this tomorrow,” Lynn Wagner, a parent volunteer on the PTA outdoor classroom committee, said gesturing to the map.  She had returned to TJ to finish the project Saturday morning only to find bicycle tire marks across several areas of the map.  “It took us five hours to stencil this before we could begin painting,” Wagner said.

“You put orange cones up around it and for kids on bicycles, it’s an open invitation” to run a course through the cones, observed Matt Grund, Wagner’s husband.

While Wagner and Jen Cipriano provided materials and oversight, the students who will continue to benefit from the outdoor classroom concept provided a significant amount of brushwork and artistic judgment.  Lydia and Siri Grund, ages nine and six, joined Olivia and Emilia Cipriano, also ages nine and six, for the holiday weekend work effort.

“Siri and Emilia did Greenland,” Lydia was eager to point out as she and her sister surveyed their shared accomplishment.  Almost as if to demonstrate the academic value of a project of this scale, there was suddenly a spontaneous flurry of pointing followed by a name and a place.  “Kazakhstan is right there, it was painted by… see that’s Ethiopia…I painted Poland.”

Lydia and Siri Grund and their parents, Lynn Wagner and Matt Grund, enjoy Labor Day weekend along the Atlantic seaboard

Lydia and Siri Grund and their parents, Lynn Wagner and Matt Grund, enjoy Labor Day weekend along the Atlantic seaboard

The principal PTA fundraiser that supports establishing outdoor classroom resources is the spring Falls Church Home and Garden Tour.  “It won’t finance everything, but we have done a lot,” Wagner admits, pointing out the recently completed outdoor amphitheater adjacent to the school’s playground.  “And, we are still looking for a volunteer to coordinate the home and garden tour this year.”  Other examples of outdoor classroom spaces at TJ are the Three Sisters Native American Garden, the pumpkin trellis, and the fern and fossil garden.

As Lydia and Siri helped their parents pack up the paints and head to the car, Wagner remarked, “Looks like I’m headed off to talk to the paint guy – we need some type of sealer.”  Two hours later, she was methodically working her way across the globe, protecting each nation not from regional hegemony or terrorist infiltration, but from the equally senseless damage caused by spray paint and skidding bicycle tires.

September 6, 2009 


3 Responses to “TJ’s Outdoor Classroom Goes Global”

  1. Bill Abel on September 7th, 2009 7:36 am

    Awesome! I love it! Way to go! I remember it being planned back when I worked “recess” and I’m so glad it is now a reality!

  2. Dreamingin22046 on September 7th, 2009 11:58 am

    The map is beautiful but I think labels might enhance the learning possibilities.

    Check out the school comparison chart in today’s WAPO Metro section and you will see that Falls Church schools are clearly tops in every category. This is great until you realize that it will result in another wave of new residents coming for the schools. Our building plan may have to be accelerated.

  3. Jen Cipriano on September 8th, 2009 11:56 am

    FYI: the proposal for labeling the map is to have students and teachers do it together over time, as it relates to various curricular units.

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