Canfield elementary school resurrects outdoor classroom, filling need for nature, social distancing

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Third-grade teacher Alexis Novotny, also a former student, remembers it being a fun place to learn about nature

CANFIELD, Ohio (WKBN) – A project started in the 80s by former teachers and a Cub Scout troop at Canfield’s Hilltop Elementary has been resurrected, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

“It was nice to walk around, you got to move, they have all kinds of things back there,” said Alexis Novotny, a third-grade teacher at Hilltop. “They had tires, and balance beams, and things I could remember walking on as a child. The goal is to get that for the students now, and it’s the perfect opportunity.”

The project is an outdoor classroom. So far, they have an area with benches and a picnic table for students to read and do work. There are also trails and bridges that can be used to explore the landscape.

“I was a student here formerly, so I can remember it being a positive place to go learn and be outside, and with everything going on right now, we thought that would be a good addition for the kids, and my own children go here, so I would like to have that for them and also my students,” Novotny said.

There are 23 acres to play with, and they’re chipping away at the four phases of the project as they receive donations for various things such as mulch, weed killer and time to clear the land. They plan to add more trails, another classroom area, a place with obstacles for children to work on physical skills and possibly a place for them to practice music.

“The goal for me, personally, is to get the kids outside,” said Jenny Beil, who is also a third-grade teacher at Hilltop. “We’re so technology-driven at this point in 2020, and even with COVID, we’re even a little bit more technology-driven, so this is a chance to go back to my younger days of being outside, playing outside.”

Beil said the other day, while she and her class were out on the trails, they saw a deer track. She said the students went bonkers because they had never seen a deer track before.

“It’s just trying to get the kids back in touch with moving away from the electronics and getting a little bit more hands-on,” she said.

They hope to add another classroom and open it up to the community as a place to walk, run and be in nature.

“They love it; they beg to come out here. ‘When can we come out?’ ‘When can we read?'” said Beil. “I think all classes have visited the outside classroom at this point.”

To donate or help out with the project, Beil said to reach out to her via email at They also have an Amazon wish list, called “Hilltop Elementary Outside Classroom.”

“A place where the community can come and walk and be a part of it, and maybe the high school could have activities out here, or cross country could come and be a part and do some kind of fun run over here, so we’re open to everything,” Beil said.

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