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State grant helps South Macon students complete project

When South Macon Elementary School teacher Kim Sanders was questioned by her Kindergarten class a few years ago why an outdoor trail wasn’t as easy to access as it should be — she decided to turn the question into a lesson. A lesson that the kindergarten class researched, demonstrated hypothesis, and developed —and debated— solutions for. Now, as those same students are in the middle of their third-grade year at South Macon Elementary School, Sanders was able to take the students back to where it all began to show them what their hard work —and their brainwork — accomplished. 

North Carolina House of Representative member Karl Gillespie presented Sanders with a grant award to fully renovate an outdoor classroom space last Friday. 

“I am honored to present South Macon Elementary School with the North Carolina School GO outside Grant,” said Rep. Gillespie. “This is definitely one of the highlights of the job. I am glad to see state dollars coming back to our district and am excited for the students to see this project come full circle.” 

Rep. Gillespie was joined by Sanders, South Macon Principal Allison Guynn, Macon County Schools STEM Coordinator Jennifer Love, and Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin on Friday afternoon to tour the project space and hear how the space will be utilized for students. 

The North Carolina Schools Go Outside (GO) Grant was created to address the main barrier to getting kids outside during the school day – funding. Field trips and outdoor experiences offer students opportunities to explore and learn in hands-on environments. With limited dollars available from local school systems, such engaging and active styles of learning are becoming things of the past.

GO Grants are grants that are provided to access field study locations and assist with other expenditures that result from taking students outdoors. Qualifying for grants requires instructors to demonstrate how the experience will address topics currently being taught in class and that the experience meets the goals of the Outdoor Heritage Trust Fund plan. The program also allows staff at field study sites to apply on behalf of teachers with their permission.

The project, which will renovate an existing path to be fully handicap accessible will provide students with safe access following the bank of a creek to be able to conduct hands-on learning and experience in science, social studies, math, language arts, STEM, counseling, and career exploration. The project space will be used by all of the over 500 students at South Macon Elementary School. 

The walking trail, which Sanders explained took some creativity and engineering to make ADA accessible will lead students to an outdoor classroom. Sanders said that she began working with her Kindergarten class — students who are now in third grade at South Macon— to research the best way to make the walking trail ADA approved. Due to the cultural and historical significance of the area where the walking trail is located — concrete and asphalt were not permitted — so Sanders and her students began working on ideas to improve the trail. 

After several years of trial and error — and fundraising headaches, Sanders was thrilled to take her original class of students to the trailhead to share with them the good news that the grant will fully fund the project’s completion. 

“I am so excited that we will be able to show the students who first came to me with the idea when they were just in kindergarten,” said Sanders. “We had hoped to have it completed before they graduated from South Macon and now with this grant, we will be able to do that.” 

The NC Go Grant will not only complete the 350 feet long ADA-approved trail to the outdoor classroom, but it will help fund a safe building for the school to store science equipment that will be used at the classroom — all without impacting the archeological significance of the area. 

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