DelVal helps New Hope-Solebury School District bring classrooms outside

Dec 13, 2010

By Annmarie Ely

For a group of students at a Bucks County elementary school, learning is about to get more exciting. Soon they won’t have to wait for recess for a chance to go outside.

DelVal is partnering with the New Hope-Solebury Lower Elementary School to create outdoor learning spaces for students in grades K-2. The goal of the project is to better use the school’s 11-acre campus to get children outside and learning in nature.


The College became involved last spring when Professor Michael Fleischacker met with Principal Kenneth M. Silver and reading specialist Nancy Rachlin. They told him about the school’s goal and he decided to make it a class project for his students, who divided up into three design groups.

The project is one of many for Professor Fleischacker. It has taken on extra meaning because his son, Nicholas, is in kindergarten at the school.

Partial funding has been provided by the New Hope Education Fund, a local nonprofit group that supports innovative educational programs and community involvement in schools.

According to Paul Atkinson, the fund’s president, the grant review committee got “goosebumps” reading the applications for the project.

In art class, the young students drew more than 300 designs, including everything from tree houses with slides to rainbows. Using the drawings for inspiration, Fleischacker’s class came up with design proposals and presented them to teachers and administrators on Nov. 9.

The school will review the designs and provide feedback. Then, the final design will be drawn up. Fleischacker expects the final design will be a combination of ideas. He is hoping to break ground by spring.

Each of the three DelVal teams did a site inventory and analysis. They examined problems with drainage, traffic flow and other issues and offered solutions. The teams also looked at the systems that surrounded the design, such as the local culture.

The research included a visit to the elementary school to talk to the kids and try to incorporate their ideas into the design. This was not always easy. As Fleischacker notes, “You can’t build a rainbow.”

The three projects presented by the DelVal students were entitled: “A World of their Own,” “School Without Walls,” and “The Children’s Arboretum.”

The student designers were: Derek Baralt, Chris Berg, Rich Douglas, Rich Flynn, Griffin Kutcha, Jess Mead, Stephen Miller, Mary Nick, Kevin Ramer, David Robbins, Brandon Sullo and Harris Trobman.

Their ideas included: a scaled down version of historical New Hope, a small amphitheater, a playhouse, a nature walk with learning stations, a living willow reading garden, a friendship garden and an outdoor classroom.

The school principal was impressed.

“I was envious of the kinds of work you’re doing,” Silver told Fleischacker’s class. “You’re doing the kind of things that some of us would’ve liked to have done in college.… It’s just extraordinary. You’re fortunate to be able to do that and we’re fortunate to have you.”