Handley High School outdoor classroom helps students learn life lessons

    The Outdoor Education Center in Roanoke City Schools is 5 years-old. (Photo by Wendell Edwards)

    ROANOKE -- Emery Norred looked down at her hands, and noticed the dirt on her palms and under her fingernails. All she could do was acknowledge the truth.

    "They are really dirty," said the Handley High School junior. "You're really not doing your job if your hands are clean though."

    Norred is part of a class of students working in the Outdoor Educational Center in Roanoke, which is part of the school system. The center is believed to be the only one of its kind in the state.

    It's a hands-on learning environment where students learn all about agri-science -- from growing a garden to re-potting plants, even feeding chickens and collecting eggs everyday.

    "I think it's really cool to come out here and do it at school because not a lot of schools have this experience," Norred said.

    Jody Pike is the teacher. He says the goal of the center is to teach students life lessons about hard work and results -- lessons you simply can't learn in a book.

    "We spend very few days in the classroom," Pike said. "We go over a little talk or lesson and then we come out here and put it to use. And the kids learn how to put this to use in life."

    There is a lot of work for the students. They have three catfish ponds to monitor, several bee hives to oversee and they planted a garden last fall behind the large greenhouse.

    "What you have here is an outdoor classroom that allows them to take what they learn in the classroom and to actually put it to use with their hands," Pike said.

    The center is 5-years-old and Pike has 189 students in four different classes.

    He says the goal is to grow even bigger.

    "They come out here and they are totally different kids," he said. "This is something that they love doing. Something they are going to do in the future."

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