Springfield Boy Scout Builds Outdoor Classroom for Alma Mater

John McElroy, Saint James Class of 2016, always wanted to give back to his alma mater.

When it came time for John to plan and develop his Eagle Scout Service Project, the senior at Union Catholic and member of Boy Scout Troop 73 in Springfield, had an idea to build an outdoor classroom so the students of Saint James would have a space to learn outdoors. After getting in contact with Saint James Principal, Mrs. Caroline Ponterio, John designed an outdoor classroom space and presented his plan in the spring of 2019.

The Eagle Scout Service Project is an opportunity for Boy Scouts to demonstrate leadership while performing a project for the benefit of their community.

“When I began working on my project, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to give back to the school community that supported my family and me when I was younger,” said McElroy.

In addition to donations for materials, John organized some fundraising to help offset the cost of materials. He wrote a letter to the school community introducing himself and describing his Eagle Scout project. John’s appeal resulted in $175 in donations, for which he was truly grateful.

Over several weekends in August and September, John and his team of volunteers cleared the area and built and painted benches and a blackboard display featuring doors that close and lock. The blackboard display is further protected from the elements with a cover. The area was prepped for the installation of eight benches on either side of the blackboard display. Final touches included mulch provided by Springfield Township and a bed of yellow flowers at the foot of the blackboard. The outdoor classroom was completed the weekend of September 15.

John visited Saint James the Apostle School on the afternoon of September 19th for a ribbon cutting. In attendance were John’s sister, Deirdre (Class of 2009), school principal, Mrs. Ponterio, teachers, children in after care and after care proctors.

The timing of this project could not be more perfect. In a September Education Week article, “The Irrefutable Case for Taking Class Outside,” author Kate Ehrenfeld Gardoqui writes, “Let’s bring teaching outside the box that is the classroom and into the natural world. Outdoor learning is so much more than fun; it is one of the richest pathways to inquiry, communication, and problem-solving. Every child deserves the opportunity to see where that path takes them.” Thanks to John, Saint James now has a beautiful place to do so.

The school community is grateful to John for his time and talent and for thinking of Saint James and wanting to give something back. Already, so

me teachers have been making use of the space on the​se fine weather days​, when being outside makes learning especially memorable.  The parish pastor, Father Joe Barbone, ​has also shared the outdoor classroom with parishioners, leading them in a blessing of the new space after Mass.

“The Saint James school community congratulates John on the successful completion of his Eagle Scout Project, and we look forward to using the outdoor classroom space he created for many years to come,” said school principal, Mrs. Caroline Ponterio.

Saint James the Apostle School has been serving the parishioners of Saint James the Apostle Church in Springfield and surrounding communities for over 65 years. Saint James the Apostle School offers students from PreK-3 through grade eight a Roman Catholic faith-based education which acknowledges each child’s individual ability to achieve their fullest potential academically, socially, and spiritually.

Saint James the Apostle School is located at 41 S. Springfield Avenue, Springfield, NJ 07081. Call 973-376-5194 or email sjschool@sjspringfield.org for more information.