Virginia Bellomy-Ezell

New Market, New Market AL

Attend the "Nature as a Fantastic Classroom for Learning" conference in Sweden to learn how to create authentic outdoor experiences that engage students.

Where I've Been

  • Linkoping, Sweden

My Fellowship in Images

So this is how the Scandinavians do it!
Our special meeting place on Sweden's Gota Canal. It's beauty-overwhelming!
Swimming in a cold, remote Swedish lake is truly a spiritual moment.
Immersion in nature influences their art. Art is huge here!
Food is culture. Sharing is traveling's treasure!
Reminding ourselves that learning should be fun!!!

Your Personal and Professional Growth

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

We learned much about engaging students! We saw children learning outside in nature, taking time for activities that attended to their needs as “thinkers”, activating both sides of the brain. They worked with less supervision and had music and art regularly. Regarding content, we did not see a lot that differed. It wasn’t what they taught, but how they orchestrated their day and their activities that differed. It was more child-driven, requiring more creativity of students. Working toward that

As a result, in what ways will your instructional practice change?

This experience is truly changing the way we teach! We are incorporating nature and being outdoors into our activities, giving students freedom to allow more creativity on the part of the students, as well as trying to include more activities that focus on art and play. We truly believe art and play to be the birthplace of creativity. Creativity is a crucial component in problem-solving. We believe creativity is going to be a most valuable skill in our children’s future professional world.

What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

Surprisingly, our greatest personal accomplishment is not the collection of specific activities and approaches to Outdoor Education. Perhaps our greatest accomplishment is gaining validation of the value of Outdoor Education and validating a classroom lifestyle that attends to their needs as creative beings. This experience has given us the confidence to implement these things, which will require commitment to our endeavor when non-conformity to the typical classroom approach is questioned.

Impact on Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your experiences positively impact student learning in new ways?

We are hopeful that our changes will positively impact our students’ progress. It’s exciting to see that only one month into the academic year, it’s clear that the students really love spending more time outside. They have been able to settle into being outdoors, yet remain focused on our activity. I take this as our first piece of evidence. I can also see that they love opportunities to express their creativity! They seem happier. A happy student is an engaged student!

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

We will definitely work with our colleagues to expand Outdoor Ed at our school. Already, we are planning to build a raised bed garden with the 5th grade math class. The math teacher is excited about the endless possibilities of real-life math problems involved in the design and layout. We are excited about the creative aspect, solving authentic real world problems, the obvious science connections, and our children having an opportunity to learn the importance of eating healthfully.

Imagining the Future

How do you envision celebrating of your students’ new learning?

My personal goal is to celebrate each project with a culminating activity that is fun and showcases their work-sometimes within the school, sometimes within the community. For example, a ceremony opening our garden to the community would be a public celebration. A current and smaller example is hosting a poetry slam at a local coffee house to celebrate our creativity in writing, during which we will share how we use nature as inspiration and subjects.

Are there issues or challenges in your school, community or the greater world about which you and your students might try to make a difference?

42% of our students live at or below the poverty line. The garden project goal is for our children to feel empowered, as well as provide/teach healthier eating. We want the children to take ownership of the construction & design of our garden, beginning with the creation, writing of and publishing of media to advertise our garden and promote limited fundraising. Our vision-the garden eventually opened to our community. Our students will have contributed to their community in a meaningful way!

How would you describe to a friend or a grant funder the most fundamental ways in which your fellowship has changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

We are 1)pressured to integrate technology into almost every activity we do, though brain research indicates over use of technology by elementary students adversely effects their interpersonal & communicative abilities, 2)make remediation a priority, giving up art and music time, despite our own country’s research indicating remediation does not work. This fellowship gave us confidence to be leaders in our classrooms and implement what we personally witnessed to be best practices!