DEER ISLE — A swampy area between Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School and the high school has been turned into a walking path for children thanks to construction of a boardwalk and an outdoor classroom and kiosk.
The boardwalk came first, built with many small donations and a $5,000 grant from Friends of Acadia, said Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School science teacher Mickie Flores. The trail for the project was cleared in 2016.
The boardwalk proved to be a respite for students and staff alike when everyone returned to in-person education after months of remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thanks to Maine Department of Education’s Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures Program funds, an outdoor classroom with kiosk has been constructed in the middle of the boardwalk. The Maine DOE was one of 11 state education departments to receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education’s Rethink K-12 Education Models. The funds were given to states considered to have the “highest coronavirus burden.” The department received $16.9 million.
Flores said during the pandemic, there were students walking along the 3/10 of a mile boardwalk at least once a day.
“It was so successful,” Flores said. “Kids loved it, teachers loved it and it stuck.” A third of the boardwalk is accessible by wheelchair.
The boardwalk has become a community hub.
“It’s a community connector,” Flores said. “It’s a place where a lot of people go. It’s becoming a focal point for the community, which is thrilling to me.”
Last October, there were multiple groups, including the afterschool program, Island Heritage Trust, Island Community Center and Island Recreation Board, that hosted local children for pumpkin carving at the boardwalk, she said. “So, 50 kids carved jack-o’-lanterns, and then they put those battery-powered lights in them. So, for a couple of nights the community was able to come view it from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.”
Luminaries were put out along the boardwalk at Christmas.
The nature area along the boardwalk is a source of learning for the students.
“We are working along with Haystack [Mountain School of Crafts] to make interpretive signs so by September there will be signs that tell you about the plants but also signs in braille,” Flores said.
Flores’ fifth grade science class last year designed “fantasy creatures” with Haystack’s Fab Lab. The students’ designs were cut out of wood on the CNC router and then returned to the children to be painted and erected in the woods surrounding the boardwalk.
The high school also uses the area for science and theater classes.
“I’m hoping with the new outdoor classroom it will get used more,” Flores said.
The boardwalk also has a bird-feeding station.