Students at Hixson Middle School got a taste of the working world while developing designs for an outdoor classroom to be used by the entire school.
Carrie Bishop, the school's reading and language arts teacher, received a grant from the Junior League of Chattanooga to cover the cost of building the outdoor classroom. As part of the Public Education Foundation's year-long STEM Teaching Fellows program, Bishop spent a day job-shadowing employees at Shaw Industries, with the goal of learning what more she can do in the classroom to help prepare students for future career opportunities.
When she told the Shaw employees — Director of Corporate Marketing and Communications Kim Gray, Senior Product Sustainability Manager Kellie Ballew, Director of Marketing Services Melida Wilson and Corporate Communications Specialist Stephanie Fischer — about the outdoor classroom project, they were more than willing to help.
"They got super-excited and wanted to help give feedback," she said of the Shaw employees, who also helped the students brainstorm ideas for sustainable materials that could be used in the classroom's construction.
All Bishop's sixth- through eighth-grade students were asked to submit a design proposal for the outdoor classroom. Each design was required to include enough seating for 35 students and to be a space that would facilitate different types of learning, while also being aesthetically pleasing, creative, and capable of being built within a $2,000 budget. They were told to think in terms of what their "clients" would want, and could communicate their idea however they saw fit, with some students submitting their designs as sketches and others building 3-D models.
The Shaw employees provided feedback on the students' proposals and helped choose the winning design.
"It meant a lot to the students that people who have this level of expertise and talent were going to look at [their designs]," Bishop said.
The winning design, submitted by Corey Holloway, includes posts that support up to eight hammocks, and incorporates areas conducive to collaboration among students as well as space appropriate for teacher-directed lessons.
Students, teachers and parent volunteers built the initial phase of the project, including areas for large and small group instruction, and seating in the form of tree stumps and poles for hanging hammocks.
About $1,400 remains of the funds for the project, $750 of which came from the Junior League, along with $250 from Shaw and $1,000 from an anonymous donor. The remaining funds will be used for additional phases, including picnic table areas and a Colonial-era herb garden, said Bishop.
Outside of their assistance with the outdoor classroom, Bishop said working with the Shaw employees offered another learning opportunity, as they exemplified a common occurrence in today's job market: people who work in a field outside of what they studied in school. She hopes to pass along to her students how important it is to know how to learn, because learning occurs throughout life and continues to create opportunities even after graduation.
"Many people went to school for one thing, but through career training and opportunities have ended up doing something else," she said. "Even after you land that job, there's still more learning to do."
Through the partnership with Shaw, Bishop said she also realized how easy it is for businesses to get involved with schools in their communities, and how beneficial that involvement can be for the students.
"I hope people will think about ways to partner with schools," she said.