Although landlocked in a residential neighborhood, one of Rochester's schools has expanded outward ever so slightly with the addition of an outdoor classroom.

Lincoln K-8, the district-wide choice school in southeast Rochester, saved the money it raised in fundraisers over nearly four years to pay for the classroom. This year, students and staff were able to see the project come together.

“It was many years of intentionally wanting something special,” Lincoln Principal Jim Sonju said. “In light of our current situation (with the COVID-19 pandemic), we’re super happy we went in this direction.”

Located on the north side of the building, the classroom resembles a small amphitheater. There are raised benches and tables that form a half-circle around a whiteboard at the front. In front of the taller tables and benches are a number of movable benches on the ground level.

Lincoln Elementary art teacher Amy Moreland checks in with eighth-graders Ellen Clappier and Alexis Richard work on independent projects during an art class in their new outdoor classroom space on Friday, April 30, 2021, at Lincoln Elementary School in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Lincoln Elementary art teacher Amy Moreland checks in with eighth-graders Ellen Clappier and Alexis Richard work on independent projects during an art class in their new outdoor classroom space on Friday, April 30, 2021, at Lincoln Elementary School in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

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There are fractions of a tall, wooden fence behind the classroom, providing a barrier of sorts between the classroom and the street.

On Friday afternoon, two classmates were working on painting projects for their art class. They had mockups of bees and flowers, experimenting with different elements.

"I like just getting the natural sun," eighth-grader Ellen Clappier said about being outside.

Sitting right next to Clappier, eighth-grader Alexis Richard said it's "inspiring" to be able to work outside. She was in the process of painting flowers.

Art teacher Amy Moreland was balancing her time between helping the students spread out throughout the classroom and those in distance learning who she was speaking to using her laptop. Moreland said being outside is a way for students to think more creatively.

"Getting them outside the four walls kind of allows them to imagine more," she said. "It kind of opens their eyes to what's going on. It perks their interest and their curiosity."

Lincoln Elementary eighth-grader Nyla Button Swenson works on a painting during an art class in their new outdoor classroom space on Friday, April 30, 2021, at Lincoln Elementary School in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Lincoln Elementary eighth-grader Nyla Button Swenson works on a painting during an art class in their new outdoor classroom space on Friday, April 30, 2021, at Lincoln Elementary School in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

The classroom is not just for art students though. Theoretically, any class can use the space if it would like. It may even grow in some ways. Sonju said the school would like to add some additional elements to the classroom, such as tactile features, bringing a little bit of the "playground aspect" into the learning environment. They'd also like to bring in some more plants and greenery.

The classroom is one of two initiatives Lincoln K-8 has taken recently to allow its students to be outside more. This year, the school also raised money to purchase a dozen picnic tables.

Students and staff raised money for the outdoor classroom for about four years. They had a hypnotist event. They held an auction, slowly building their proceeds.

Some of the students who originally helped raise money for the project are now off to high school.

"They didn't get the reward of the outdoor classroom," Sonju said. "But that's kind of the mindset: you keep paying it forward."