West Chester East High School Adds New Outdoor Classroom

800 450 Stroud Water Research Center

The Stroud Center’s Impact: Enhancing Student Knowledge and Value of Fresh Water

Headshot of Anthony Prinzo.

By Anthony Prinzo

In an era where environmental awareness is paramount, Stroud Water Research Center stands as an example of how research institutions can harness the power of grants and partnerships to enhance students’ learning experiences. Thanks to a generous Environmental Education Grant the Stroud Center obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and with the Stroud Center’s help, West Chester East High School recently established a remarkable outdoor classroom, fostering a connection between students and outdoor learning. 

High school students working at tables in an outdoor classroom.

The idea of building an outdoor classroom at our high school was born from a shared vision of educators, students, and the local community. Central to the success of the outdoor classroom project was the collaboration with the Stroud Center, an institution dedicated to freshwater research, environmental education, and watershed restoration. 

As a teacher deeply passionate about environmental science, I have had the privilege of actively engaging with the Stroud Center in various ways over the past four years. The Stroud Center has assisted the West Chester Area School District and myself in developing curriculum for entire classes like our new Aquatic Ecology course, as well as supported lesson development to assist in implementing Pennsylvania’s new education standards for science, technology and engineering, environmental literacy, and sustainability (STEELS). I and some of my fellow teachers have received professional development training from the Stroud Center to enhance instruction, as well as funding for various labs and projects; their support has provided numerous networking opportunities to enhance our science curriculum, and the research center itself has become a yearly field trip destination that our students truly enjoy. 

The value gained from my involvement with this project was immeasurable. Beyond academic knowledge, I learned about the importance of conservation, stewardship, and the critical role our students can play in preserving our freshwater ecosystems. These experiences were instrumental in shaping my career aspirations and fostering a connection with environmental literacy.

The outdoor classroom at our high school has been a resounding success. It serves as a testament to the power of education and environmental stewardship. The space features native plant gardens, four large tables, eight benches, four standing tables, umbrellas, whiteboards, and a teacher desk. It provides a hands-on environment where students can apply the knowledge gained from their environmental experiences. Also, the impact of the outdoor classroom extends far beyond environmental education. West Chester East High School is proud to state that our classroom was built 100% in-house by students and overseen by educators and community members. It taught our students engineering and design processes, construction, and budgeting skills. Moreover, it has inspired other schools in the region to embark on similar initiatives, creating a ripple effect of environmental education. Lastly, it serves as a profound example to the community that learning does not have to occur within four walls and in rows.

Our outdoor classroom is a testament to the transformative power of collaboration, grants, and environmental education. With the support of the Pa. DEP and the guidance of the Stroud Center, our students and educators like myself have gained invaluable knowledge, skills, and a deep appreciation for collaboration and for the natural world.

I am grateful to acknowledge the following people and organizations for making this project a success: Stephen Brown, Ed.D.; Paul Joyce; Dina Dormer, Ed.D.; Steve Kerlin, Ph.D.; Tara Muenz; Tim Moore; Sandy Duli; Christy Maurer; Maria Bolner; Karen O’Neill; Pa. DEP; West Chester Area Education Foundation; West Chester East High School PTO; Wayne Birster; the West Chester East High School Facilities and Grounds Crew; the entire West Chester East High School; and the Fugett Middle School Science Department. 

Anthony Prinzo is a biology teacher, the Science Department chair, and the Environmental Club Advisor at West Chester East High School in Pennsylvania.