Students at Red Cedar Elementary School will get occasional breaks from the classroom to take their learning outdoors, thanks in part to Bluffton High School senior Jack Pateracki.
On Monday, the 17-year-old Pateracki revealed a nature trail and outdoor classroom he helped create for Red Cedar in Bluffton as part of a service project to become an Eagle Scout.
He led the school's students, a total of about 700, on their first walk of the path, which winds through wetlands owned by the Beaufort County School District and across the street from the elementary school.
"I hope I see a deer," first-grader Adam Berrady said as he peered through the trees.
"I want to see a fox," said kindergartner Jackson Gump.
Classmate Braiden Brooks hoped for something more exotic.
"I want to see a monkey," he whispered.
Pateracki and about 50 volunteers from the Boy Scouts, Bluffton High and Red Cedar Elementary cleared the trail in January using donated equipment. They created a viewing area around a pond, used wood chips to make the outdoor classroom comfortable and posted signs marking various species of trees and plants.
"I can see us out here with our books," teacher Randi Harms told students in her multi-age kindergarten and first-grade class.
Deb Ryan, the school's math and science instructional coach who developed the project with Pateracki, said children will gain a better understanding of nature by walking the trail. They'll observe how plants change with the seasons and can label the different species they identify.
Pateracki said he hopes the trail lets students spend more time outdoors.
"In elementary school, my favorite part of the day was going outside for recess," he said. "We're trying to incorporate learning with being outside and get (students) out of the building as much as possible."
That might help students learn to appreciate their environment and spend less time indoors playing video games, where they are "kind of in their own little world," Pateracki said.
As a 12-year Boy Scout, Pateracki said he spends as much as time as he can outdoors and enjoys Scouting camps and water activities, such as kayaking. He hopes to turn in his Eagle Scout paperwork in the next couple of months so he can achieve the rank before his 18th birthday in August.
He plans to study mechanical engineering when he starts college in the fall but isn't sure yet which school he will attend.