Young alum gives back with new outdoor classroom at St. Mary’s


CRANSTON — Aidan Paplauskas, a recent graduate of St. Mary’s School, has put his heart, soul and sweat into a project to benefit an alma mater that has meant so much to him in his formative years.
As part of his Eagle Scout Service Project, which encourages a Boy Scout to demonstrate leadership of others while performing a project for the benefit of their community, Paplauskas thought, “why not build an outdoor classroom.” He found a perfect location in the back of the St. Mary’s School property, began to develop the idea further, and then last April, he made his dream a reality.
The current space is green and peaceful, surrounded by the shade of trees and sounds of chirping birds. Views of Randall Pond can be seen from the picnic tables, only adding to this serene educational environment that will nurture students in a natural setting. It’s an inviting space and a valuable addition to the learning experience at St. Mary’s, explained Principal Lisa Lepore.
“When he proposed the idea I said “Yeah! Absolutely, go for it!” He’s a wonderful student and very organized, very thoughtful and very methodical in what he does, so I knew it was going to be perfect. When it was completed we brought all the kids out and showed them and explained that this wasn’t for recess but that this could be a great new space for them to learn and they were absolutely thrilled.”
As Paplauskas got the ball rolling on his project during his spring break, he knew he wanted it to look nice — which it does. He wanted it to be functional with a white board and he knew he wanted to have signs and streamers to add to the unique atmosphere.
The young man received donations from friends and family and the Paplauskas family helped to fund the remaining cost for picnic tables, landscaping and other materials. The labor to prepare the space included mowing, removing overgrown brush blocking the pond view and adding sand and loam.
A study by the University of Wisconsin showed that school performance increases when children learn outdoors, documenting increased standardized test scores, enhanced attitude about school, improved in-school behavior, when students learn in and about nature. In addition, the research said that students who learn outdoors develop: a sense of self, independence, confidence, creativity, decision-making and problem-solving skills, empathy towards others, motor skills, self-discipline and initiative.
Lepore added that she feels that the idea of the Outdoor Classroom will continue to be an important option for schools, especially if it helps keep students in school as the Covid-19 pandemic remains.
“I think that the main goal is to keep kids in school and we will do whatever it takes to ensure that. I think this project is wonderful.”
Paplauskas smiled as he looked around the completed space, wearing a content expression of a job well done. He explained what it means to him to see the students out in the space and enjoying his idea come to life.
“It shows that I can make a difference. It shows that what I did will have an impact on these kids for years to come.”


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