The Penobscot Times

Old Town High School teacher builds outdoor learning auditorium

OLD TOWN, Maine — Tennessee native Rad Mayfield has always enjoyed woodworking. 

Through the years, he taught himself to build garages, decks, house additions and the like. Now the Old Town science teacher is putting those skills to use for an upcoming school year unlike any other. 

“I’ve been building stuff all my life,” said Mayfield, who also serves on the board of trustees for Hirundo Wildlife Refuge. But with the students’ imminent return to school amid the coronavirus pandemic, Mayfield decided to turn an old desire of building an outdoor classroom into a reality. 

The concept of outdoor classrooms is not a novel one in Maine, especially in recent weeks as educators look for safe alternatives to in-class teaching, where students can stay socially distant while learning in fresh air. 

It’s an idea that has sat in the back of Mayfield’s mind since he moved to Maine about a decade ago. 

“Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve wanted to do this,” he said. 

WIth the approach of the first day of school, he figured there was no better time to make it happen. 

A short distance into the woods behind Old Town High School, Mayfield built what he calls an “outdoor auditorium,” with enough logs to seat up to 100 students safely. He arranged the logs to face a new glass board — which he built with scrap materials from a previous project — from where teachers can give lessons.

Rad Mayfield, an Old Town High School Science Teacher, has built an outdoor learning auditorium where students can have class outside during the coronavirus pandemic. (Nina Mahaleris)

The board sits atop a newly-constructed wooden deck Mayfield made, with two bird feeders hanging from either side. He said he plans on hanging more feeders around the outdoor classroom, so students can see some of the different kinds of animals in the area. 

The project came together in about a week, during which Mayfield cleared away debris, cut the logs and build the deck space. It cost him around $100 in extra materials. Besides one tree that was a danger, he said he only cut down trees that were already dead — most of which had come down during a windstorm a few years ago. 

Uses for the new space are plentiful, too. Mayfield said he envisions teachers taking their students out there for lunch or mask breaks, in addition to regular classes. 

He hopes to keep the outdoor learning going in the colder months, too. He said he’d like to have small fire pits around the area so the students can keep warm as the weather begins to turn. 

While the outdoor classroom is not far from the building, the school’s IT department is working on setting up an antenna near the space so students can access the internet with their laptops while outside. 

For Mayfield, the end of this project beckons the start of another. He wants to build another one or two outdoor classrooms behind the school so more students can get outside and learn. 

“Teaching outside has always been important to me,” he said.

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