Outdoor Middle School Courtyard – Update by Frances Harrington eDI’19 and Kevin Smedley EDI’19

Here are Kevin Smedley EDI’19 and Frances Harrington EDI’19 about their project related to using an outdoor space here at NA.

Today we presented our final plan for the outdoor space in the middle school. Our project started in the ninth grade as one of the first projects of our cohort. Due to prior issues, however, we were unable to continue working on it until this year. Our original inspiration for this space came when our team realized that Middle School students had no outdoor quiet study space. The Pit is often tumultuous during times when students might study, and almost all other outdoor spaces are not utilized. Furthermore, teachers don’t have an option to teach their students outside.

hoped to create a space that could be used by students to study outside  and also used by teachers as a classroom. In multiple studies involving children undergoing large amounts of stress, it was found that nature left these children in a far more relaxed, focused state. Adam Alter, a psychology professor at NYU states in his 2013 book, Drunk Tank Pink, “People who are exposed to natural scenes aren’t just happier or more comfortable; the very building blocks of their physiological well-being also respond positively.” Alter also points out that nature gives us the chance to think as much or as little as we’d like, and the opportunity to replenish exhausted mental resources. William James, a psychologist in the 20th century, believes that there are two types of attention: Directed and Involuntary attention. He explains that nature attract our attention involuntarily.

When we first began this project in the ninth grade, we ended the year with only the base of the hexagon: 7 feet on each side with rocks on the inside. As we moved through this year, we came up with the final plan of having benches placed on four out of the six sides of the hexagon. One side will be left open as an entrance and on the opposite side will be two posts that can hang a whiteboard. This way, when teachers want to teach an outdoor class or have a student help session, they now have an alternate area to turn to as opposed to the Pit. Additionally, this space can double as just another hangout space for middle school students. Moving forward into the future, we hope to pass this project on to someone from a younger cohort.