A week from Friday, students will fill the brand new classroom at Elachee Academy at the Nature Center in the Chicopee area.
Pre-K graduate and K-1 program student Karis McIntyre got to cut the ribbon on the classroom alongside Elachee officials Thursday morning.
The classroom was formerly the bat exhibit at the nature center. New teacher Sheri Ruether said the room has completely changed.
"When I first came, there was a bat exhibit here so it didn't have windows. So they cut out the windows into the wall, opened up a lot of light," said Ruether.
She said the K-1 program will keep kids on the track of environmental-based learning. "It will be a lot of hands-on learning where they're up and moving around, doing things with nature and art and music. They'll be learning their academics, like reading and reading groups, math, social studies," Ruether said. "There's all this that was can teach using the outdoors, natural substances and everything."
Ruether is a 14 year teaching veteran, who is finishing up her doctorate degree in learning, instruction and innovation, with her dissertation focused on utilizing outdoor classrooms. She previously worked at Gwinnett County and Cobb County schools.
Director of Schools Rhonda Bailey said the program got started because parents of their Pre-K students wanted something more.
"We started with an idea - some parents came to us and asked us to start a Kindergarten and First Grade program," Bailey said. "The catch was, they wanted to do it this coming year. So a very short amount of preparation time, but we were very fortunate that our board, our friends of Elachee were supportive and behind the idea. "
Bailey said despite the deadline, it was still good timing.
"We had a very successful fundraiser in the spring at our 'Flights of Fancy' and that allowed us to be able to do the renovations and buy the supplies. And because we were currently SACS accredited, we were able to carry that accreditation over to the school and that was a huge hurdle."
The school also boasts an outdoor classroom that features amphitheater style seating on smooth, flat rocks facing a wooden stage.
The Academy is still accepting Year 1 applicants through the start of the school year. More information can be found here.