The concepts behind the two outdoor classrooms on the Prince George's campus sprang from the creative mind of Children's Guild Program and Design Specialist, the late Bill Staffa. Staffa, known for the imaginative flair he brought to Children's Guild projects, drew inspiration from both fictional and non-fictional characters as well as Dr. Seuss in conceptualizing the classrooms.
The Leroy Merritt Discovery Classroom, which bears the name of long-time friend and supporter of The Children's Guild, Merritt Properties President Leroy Merritt, was created to help students excel in two often-neglected subjects: math and science. Here students can experience journeys of discovery via land, sea and air.
Inside Discovery Classroom is a large replica of Jacques Cousteau's ship Calypso; students can climb aboard for imaginary journeys to the Galapagos Islands, the North Pole or wherever else they wish to travel. Inspiration also appears on a bordering wall, which is adorned with colorful paintings, created by freelance consignment artist Alexia Hemingway, of Cousteau, Lewis and Lark, Leonardo da Vinci and others; all of whom, Staffa stresses, had to first be educated in math and science before embarking on their adventures.
At the center of the grounds is a cascading waterfall that empties into a sparkling pond, home to fish, turtles and other wildlife. And thanks to an acrylic window strategically placed into one of the pond's embankments, students get to observe the living creatures in their habitat "under the sea."
"The number of ways we can apply Discovery Classroom to teach our students about math and science is limited only by our own teachers' imaginations and ingenuity," said Dr. Andrew Ross, president of The Children's Guild.
On the other side of the campus at the Joanne Benson Sustainability Studio, which was named for Delegate Benson, is meant, among other things, to educate students on the importance of "green living," and to take children on a journey of learning and discovery in ecology and the arts. Delegate Benson, a tireless advocate of The Guild, worked to help get state funding for the school's renovation projects.
The classroom that bears the representative's name is a miniature replica of the Maryland bioregion, where students can create sand sculptures on the "beach," tend a garden (which they will later harvest), climb mountains, sketch by a mountain stream, or sit beside a waterfall and write or paint. As with the Leroy Merritt Discovery Classroom, the possibilities are limitless.
"This environment provides a peaceful and soothing setting that allows students' imaginations to flow," enthuses Ross. "Both of these outdoor classrooms are shining examples of the amazing things we can accomplish when the community, educators, legislators and artists work together."