By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMarch 14, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 14, 2013) -- Among the Army values, selfless service is one that can make a huge impact both within the Army and to the surrounding communities, and Soldiers in various organizations on Fort Rucker have taken that value to heart.
Soldiers from different organizations ranging from the Basic Officer Leaders Course, Noncommissioned Officers Academy and the Directorate of Training and Doctrine have taken on a project at Rucker Boulevard Elementary to help create an outdoor classroom, according to Sgt. 1st Class Jason Barrett, B Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment.
"We were looking for something that would allow different people from within our organization [at DOTD] to go out and volunteer on a repeat basis," said Barrett, who is also a writer and developer for DOTD. "We've been going out to Rucker Boulevard Elementary for about four weeks and helping with the construction of their outdoor classrooms."
The mission of this project is to broaden the minds of the students of Rucker Boulevard Elementary and provide a fun, different learning experience for the children while developing their critical thinking skills, according to Sheree Hardrick, school principal.
"Activity-based learning in the outdoor classroom is a highly powerful tool," said Hardrick. "It's not only crucial to a child's emotional and social development, but presents a whole new educational experience, too."
The outdoor classroom, which is slated to be completed by Earth Day, will have learning stations that include a formal garden, sculpture garden, charitable garden, rock garden, blueberry garden, butterfly garden, historical garden, sensory garden, performing arts center, weather station, orchard, solar energy station, storytelling corner and a human sundial.
The outdoor classrooms were designed by children at the elementary school, and Barrett said that he and other Soldiers from DOTD have worked with the school staff to help facilitate those designs.
"[This project] is a great fit for us and I like the fact that the school is teaching children useable skills -- skills that they're actually going to be able to utilize for the rest of their lives," he said.
Staff Sgt. Ryan McFarland, B Co. 1st Bn., 13th Avn. Regt., agreed and said he can't wait to return to the elementary school to continue the project.
"It just feels great to help out," he said. "I've been out to Rucker Boulevard Elementary twice already, just this past weekend, and we put up a wooden privacy fence, a gate, a rock garden, planted rose gardens and a number of other things."
Hardrick said the help that the Soldiers have provided has been instrumental in the construction of much of the outdoor classroom.
"They have been an invaluable resource for our project and we have been able to complete most of our projects with the extra labor," she said. "They have allowed us to complete several projects that were not scheduled to be completed until next year.
"We are very honored to have Soldiers volunteer with Rucker Boulevard Elementary School to complete our outdoor classroom," said Hardrick. "It's such a humbling experience to watch each one dedicate their time and service to us on Saturday mornings."
Hardrick said that working in conjunction with the Soldiers teaches the children valuable life lessons about selfless service.
"This is another way of exposing our students to different careers and real-life situations," she continued. "No matter what career a student may choose in life, the Soldiers are portraying the importance of volunteering and serving the community during their time off."
A lesson that Barrett is familiar with, and one that he said he is more than happy to share with not only the students, but with others within his own organization and on Fort Rucker.
"I have a long history of volunteering and it's something that we wanted to set up as an ongoing thing here," he said. "Volunteerism teaches people how to give back. It gives you a good feeling inside knowing that you've contributed, in this instance, to the growth of children, and that's the overall goal -- to selflessly give of ourselves to improve the lives of others."