Last Friday, the IB program students pursuing the prestigious college preparatory diploma, unveiled two years of hard, manual labor which culminated in a sustainable outdoor classroom for generations of Dogwood Elementary school students to enjoy.

A once special place that had fallen in disrepair over the years has been given new life by Camdenton High School’s International Baccalaureate program students.

Last Friday, the IB program students pursuing the prestigious college preparatory diploma, unveiled two years of hard, manual labor which culminated in a sustainable outdoor classroom for generations of Dogwood Elementary school students to enjoy.

Over a decade ago, the awkward outdoor space which is completely encapsulated by Dogwood’s buildings was dedicated as a memorial garden to a former teacher who had tragically died in a boating accident. However, the space was not required to be maintained by maintenance staff and eventually became overgrown with weeds, brush, dirt, rocks and garbage as staff transitioned over the years.

“It was in extreme, bad shape and we saw a sign that said, “We Need Help,” and these IB diploma students have a service component to their tract and I’m in charge of making sure they complete that,” Angie Koons, IB Diploma CAS Coordinator, said. “I said, ‘hey guys Dogwood has this outdoor classroom that’s just dilapidated, it’s falling apart, it looks scary out there. Would you think about turning this into a sustainable outdoor classroom for them as your project?”

Some of the seniors, who were now present, recalled what the space had looked like when they attended Dogwood and were sad to hear it had fallen to such a sad state, Koons said. Her daughter, Cami Koons, was one of those students and spoke about the group’s project.

“Do you remember what it looked like before? You never got to come in here. The teachers were like ‘don’t go in there, there could be a snake that could like attack you.’ Don’t know what’s in there! It was all overgrown, there were weeds everywhere, it looked scary and you didn’t get to use it,” Kami said. “So we saw that as a problem and we decided we wanted to make this a place that you guys could use and you could enjoy. And we put in quite a bit a work.”

Before she could finish, another IB student shouted out, “a lot of work,” which drew laughs from the dozen or so teachers and administrators who had gathered for the dedication. Koons said through the CAS portion of IB program, which stands for creativity, activity and service, students are required to take on a large project lasting at least three months. These students chose one that would take two years and plenty of extra volunteer hours. 

“The kids came in and spent days and days and days clearing out all the dead brush and clearing out the trash. It was really renovating it, moving tons of rock and mulch and creating a stage. They really wanted it to be a place where the students could come and do some things outdoors or just have a nice, safe space for them,” Dr. Jody Welsh, Coordinator for College and Career Readiness (IB/AP/PLTW/Dual Credit), said.

Welsh and Koons agreed that the students deserved all the credit, in both planning and execution, and thanked the rest of the Camdenton School District community for the support. One of the biggest challenges is the fact there is no way to access the space unless going through most of the inside of the school, including a flight of stairs, which meant the students had to wheelbarrow everything in and out.

“They got some of the other school groups to help, the JV football team came up one day after practice and for two hours hauled rock in for us. The juniors, even though it’s not their project, came up the last day to help us finish up. It’s really just been a community effort, the whole idea behind CAS is to get them to see the world isn’t just about you and there are things you can do locally to give back to the community and help make a better place for the little Lakers too,” Welsh said. “These IB diploma students pursue the most rigorous coursework Camdenton High School has to offer. They have to write a 4,000-word essay, they have to do CAS actives, which this is part of.”

The space will be used for outdoor classroom sessions or break activities throughout the day when weather permits. The students installed tree stumps as chairs as well as a stage area and several steel picnic benches along with a Dogwood tree.

“We completely stripped everything out, pulled tarp, ripped weeds, found a big, toad — that was an experience. But it took months and months and months, and then I wrote a grant and got the Dorothy Blair Grant that our school offers and that got us some grant money that came in this summer and so we bought some material and our big goal was sustainable materials, so that wouldn’t happen again in a couple of years,” Angie Koons said.

“These guys have worked and worked, put in their own time and resources, physical labor and planning. We learned skills like wheelbarrowing and hammering and staining and things they had never done before. It is what is today because of those kids. Today was icing on the cake and the fact that the Dogwoods are blooming —  it’s just special.”