Auberle Outdoor Classroom offers hands-on experiences

Auberle's new Outdoor Classroom is serving as an arena for hands-on learning of the sciences and teaching the children in Auberle's care valuable lessons about their role in the community.

It’s no accident that many of Sprout’s funded projects involve hands-on learning.  We believe that children who learn through participation feel more engaged and are better able to comprehend and retain information. Auberle is well aware of this fact and has used it as a basis for constructing their Outdoor Classroom.

Based in McKeesport, the Auberle organization has been caring for abused, neglected, and troubled children throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania for over 50 years. Many of the children entering the programs at Auberle arrive academic grades behind their peers.  Auberle believes that the hands-on experience provided through the Outdoor Classroom gives these children the opportunity to catch up to other students. Annie Schultheis, development associate at Auberle, explains, “Research shows us that hands-on learning and learning-by-doing work really well for this population who traditionally struggle in math and science. It creates a fun, interesting way for them to learn new concepts. When the kids are interested and engaged, they retain the new information better.”

Even before the classroom was completed, its construction provided many learning opportunities. In the summer of 2010, children worked with professional contractors to design and build an environmentally friendly fishpond. In 2011, they constructed amphitheater seating around the pound utilizing indigenous plants and materials that allow for the absorption of rainwater and the prevention of run-off. The children also completed a variety of nature-related projects that they will continue to maintain using the classroom as a base. These projects include an organic garden, compost pile, rainwater barrels, and birdhouses.

In addition to serving as an arena for hands-on learning of the sciences, the classroom teaches the children valuable lessons about their role in the community. Annie explains, “The outdoor classroom gives us a unique opportunity to teach our youth accountability regarding their footprint on the environment and what they need to do to successfully care for and take ownership in their community and the natural resources here. We are teaching them about responsibility and accountability to their community and environment. This sense of community adds a needed dimension to their development into healthy, successful and conscientious adults.”

Thanks to the efforts of the Auberle organization and its students, the campus was recently certified as a National Wildlife Federation Urban Habitat. This honor serves as a source of pride for the entire McKeesport community. By adding green space to an urban area, the classroom also transforms the Auberle campus and its surrounding vicinity into a more beautiful and useable space.

Annie Schultheis says those at Auberle hope the classroom will help children and families gain three main things; “increased academic performance as it relates to environmental studies, math and science; a deeper appreciation and understanding of the individual’s responsibility and role in supporting biodiversity and conservation in our region; and an enjoyable community space that can continue to be used long into the future for lessons and community needs.”

The outdoor classroom is also available for community use. If your family or organization would like to use the classroom, contact Rodney Prystash, Director of Facilities and Operations at 412-673-5856 ext. 1224 or

Published September 30, 2011