What was once an overgrown amphitheater is now the ideal outdoor learning environment.

In the backyard of Wilemon STEAM Academy over the last week, teachers were busy re-purposing picnic benches with Lowe’s staff to construct benches, a stage and teepees.

Shortly after Wilemon Principal Kate Authier was awarded her new position with Waxahachie ISD, she already had an idea of what she wanted to do with the outdoor space.

“We can use this as an outdoor classroom space, and I really want to bring a theatre program, and this would be a good place to have musicals and bring parents out here,” Authier elaborated. “The kids can also do presentations out here. This is going to be a very big collaborative space we can use.”

Lowe’s in Waxahachie offered a helping hand with funding the project and bringing it to life. Sam Gonzales, the Waxahachie store manager, lead the project and relayed what the final product would look like. He described a stage, one foot off the ground, was constructed with two rows of benches on a 35-foot slope. Between the stage and seating will be a grassy area.

“What we did was re-purpose the turf from the stadium,” Sam pointed out.

Also, some Indian pride was incorporated into the design with wooden teepees that will be wrapped in canvas. Authier envisioned students sitting in the tents while a teacher reads to them.

The benches and stage were constructed with wood donated by TREX, a national company. “Unlike wood where after a while it can weather, start to splinter — this won’t. It doesn’t heat up in the summertime so it will last forever,” Sam explained.

“We always want to try and help out our community as much as we can. So we are really excited. This fit right with what we do. Lowe's has a program, Lowe's Heroes, which is a community outreach program,” Sam elaborated.

Acker Construction also played a role with a significant monetary donation toward supplies. In addition, a garden funded by the Ellis County Master Gardener Association and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows will soon be installed, as well.

Behind the theatre area is a mural painted on the building by Debbie Davis, the former Felty art teacher and current Wilemon art teacher.

“It’s going to be a globe — Earth. And there will be about 12 little kids faces, and they all have different professions having to do with STEAM. And there’s going to be a Mr. Rogers quote inside of it,” Davis explained.

Also pitching in during the process was Waxahachie ISD Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Glenn and trustees, Clay Schoolfield and Dusty Autrey, who were seen hauling a ladder around Wednesday.

As the primer for the mural was applied, Glenn shared a few caring words about the project.

“Debbie Davis, our art teacher, she is a gem. She’s incredible and really across the district she’s made a tremendous impact. She will be an asset at the Wilemon campus,” Glenn boasted. “[...] Kate Authier, this is her first principal position. Before, she was the assistant principal at Northside. She is a visionary, and we are proud to have her leadership on this campus. She has a passion for STEAM education.”

He added, “We are so grateful to have community partners like Lowe's that will come out here and not only give the resources but their time to really make a project-based learning environment at Wilemon."

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450