While many school systems use the open land around their buildings to install sports fields or playgrounds, a small, independent preparatory high school in Carmel is using the available land to teach about the environment in the “great outdoors.” University High School is looking beyond traditional teaching methods. The school is developing Habitat for Community Learning, which turns the outdoors into a classroom.

In an interview on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick, Assistant Head of School Stacey Summitt-Mann said the initiative encourages students to learn from the world around them.

“In 2017, when I was teaching my environmental science class, we did an orienteering activity. And that was really just to get out on our campus to learn about direction, to learn about space,” explained Summitt-Mann, whose background is in ecology. “And the students very quickly stopped at the parking lot… and didn’t recognize this whole other area as a part of our campus.”

From there, Summitt-Mann led her students to get their hands dirty by examining soil and plant life. Right now, the property includes storm water drainage and an underground pipeline, covered by grass and trees. But eventually expects the property will have three acres of wetland habitat, an outdoor amphitheater, and a multipurpose trail.

“What’s being developed is the idea that this can be made into a better environment, both ecologically and for education,” said Summitt-Mann. “[This] will be a place on campus that students can connect to and can ground to in multiple different ways.”