Outdoor learning at Gearity

The cob oven at Gearity school. [courtesy Laura Marks]

Heights High teacher Steve Warner has an enduring passion to get students learning, working, and playing outdoors. Warner has guided students through many outdoor projects, including building pollinator gardens. One of the highlights of this past summer occurred when he and students made s’mores in the cob oven at the Gearity Elementary School in University Heights.

“Cob” is a building technique that uses a mixture of mud and straw to make a weather- and fire-resistant structure. In 2015, Warner was part of the team that expanded Gearity’s outdoor learning spaces to include the cob pizza oven, a large high-tunnel greenhouse, and several outdoor classrooms. 

“I like seeing the kids enjoying themselves outside. Hopefully, one day the kids can enjoy the outdoors during the school day as well,” Warner said.

For the past few years, Amit Shuck, who runs Imitating Eden Garden Design, and Paul Gustafson, a CH-UH teacher, have tended the garden at Gearity, working especially hard during the summer to keep the garden thriving. 

The garden comprises a variety of plants, including a huge, fruitful fig tree in the high tunnel. “It’s amazing how many figs are on a tree that is not even supposed to grow in Cleveland’s climate,” said Warner. 

Shuck also leads an ongoing fundraiser for the garden by sharing the produce from it through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Members of the CSA pick up fresh food twice a week. 

The Gearity garden is full of learning opportunities, and learning outdoors has been shown to improve the health of students and teachers. For example, COVID and other respiratory diseases are less transmissible outside in fresh air. Learning outdoors also has been shown to raise test scores, and kids with ADHD can expand their energy into the greater space of the outdoors.

Although it is challenging to bring students outside, due to logistics and the busy schedules of the school day, Warner hopes the cob oven and other outdoor facilities at Gearity will be used more in years to come. 

“Maybe, one day, the outdoor spaces at all the CH-UH schools will be used for learning,” Warner said.

Laura Marks

Laura Marks's family moved to Cleveland Heights in 1855. She is a member of Heights Tree People.

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Volume 15, Issue 10, Posted 10:02 AM, 10.01.2022