Outdoor classroom honors former Groton principal, Earth Day

Former Northeast Academy elementary school Principal Carolyn Doutre, right, points out features of the outdoor classroom under construction Monday to Northeast staff, from left, Jennifer Criscuolo, Brenda Williams and Christina Rodgers. They walked outside to watch a crew from Sprigs & Twigs work on the classroom in the woods adjacent to Northeast Academy in Groton. The classroom, named for Doutre, who conceived the setting, is funded by the school's PTO and built in conjunction with Earth Day.
Former Northeast Academy elementary school Principal Carolyn Doutre, right, points out features of the outdoor classroom under construction Monday to Northeast staff, from left, Jennifer Criscuolo, Brenda Williams and Christina Rodgers. They walked outside to watch a crew from Sprigs & Twigs work on the classroom in the woods adjacent to Northeast Academy in Groton. The classroom, named for Doutre, who conceived the setting, is funded by the school's PTO and built in conjunction with Earth Day. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Groton - At Northeast Academy, students can now breathe a breath of fresh air in their brand-new outdoor classroom.

When Carolyn Doutre retired at the end of the 2010-11 school year, the Parent-Teacher Organization unveiled a plan to create a new learning space for students in her honor. Doutre was the first principal of Northeast Academy, which was founded in 2007.

After two years of logistics and paperwork, construction of an outdoor classroom began on Monday, in honor of Earth Day.

The new classroom is to the left of the students' playground behind the school. Up a small hill and along a short nature walk, students and teachers can find an inviting clearing with a stone podium and wooden benches. It is expected to be able to hold up to 40 students. The area is designed for conducting a science lesson, reading a story, or enjoying lunch with classmates.

"The school system owns all of the surrounding wooded area," said school Principal Paul Esposito. "Classes can take nature walks, and then have a place out there to talk about what they saw instead of coming back inside."

Esposito and the other students and faculty are very excited about the completion of the outdoor classroom. Honoring Doutre has been a priority for many at the school since her retirement.

"Carolyn Doutre set the standards for excellence that we now strive for each and every day," said Espositio. "I hope to continue all the good work that she did."

Doutre, who retired after 38 years as an educator, is excited to see the classroom that she proposed to the PTO finally coming to life.

"A few years ago, I walked up to this area on a hot summer day," said Doutre. "There was a natural clearing, and I thought, we need to bring the children up here."

Of her nearly four-decade tenure, Doutre spent 22 years as in the administration of various schools in the Groton public school system. Though Doutre loved inspiring students to excel, she retired in 2011 to spend more time with her family and young grandchildren, which the demanding 60-hour workweek as school principal did not allow.

The PTO was excited and thankful that local landscaper Bill Lillie and his company, Sprigs & Twigs, choose to take on the classroom as a part of their Earth Day campaign. The company, which services southeastern Connecticut and western Rhode Island, donated its time and resources to the development of the new classroom. Giving back is an important part of Sprigs & Twigs' mission.

"We get a lot of business from the town," Lillie said. "The least we can do to give back and say thank you."

The Earth Day Campaign is an annual service project that Sprigs & Twigs takes on to promote environmental awareness. In the previous years, the company has replanted the Ledyard Oak and created a memorial garden at the Preston Little League field.

This year's graduating class will be the first that received the entirety of their elementary education at Northeast Academy.

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