The Independence School has unveiled its new outdoor classroom, a more than 57,000-square-foot space designed to provide students with a new way to learn.

“It’s been a dream for a long time,” Head of School Vicky Yatzus said during a grand opening ceremony Sept. 10. “It’s taken us a while to get here. So we’re really excited that we’re finally opening it for our students.”

The space has 14 different zones, giving students at the K-8 private school a variety of places to play and learn.

“You have a curving trail system that ties it all together,” architect Jonathan Ceci said. “You have vegetative groupings that are reflective of Delaware, from Piedmont woodlands to dune areas that are evocative of the beach.”

The outdoor classroom, built at the site of a former playground, includes an amphitheater, a garden area, a playground area and more.

Cici said the goal was to create an immersive experience for students in a natural setting. The outdoor space includes swings, sandboxes and musical instruments that students can play by hitting metal flowers with a mallet.

“It’s pretty amazing, especially during COVID times, for them to do learning outside and take a break from a mask while keeping their distance. It’s awesome,” parent Robert Ford said.

The school, located on Paper Mill Road, received support from Marmot Foundation, Crystal Trust and the McDonald Foundation. It worked with Nature Explore, an organization that provides training in outdoor education, to create the new classroom.

The school also had help from alumni and parents who donated to fund the classroom. Ameilia Julian Wyant, president of Eastern States Corp., and Kevin Heitzenroder, owner of Turf Pro, also provided assistance.

The Independence School Parents Association donated one of the instruments used in the outdoor classroom.

“It’s part of history. We’re part of something great to the school that will last for years to come,” said Michelle Webb, president of the parents association.

Ashley Funk and Vance Funk IV donated to the project after watching a fundraising gala organized by the school, becoming the largest individual donors to the project.

“We’ve got one child here, with one child coming,” Vance Funk said. “It looked worthwhile. Our children like being outside.”

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