Irving ISD dedicates outdoor learning center

Photo: Steven Jones, Mayor Van Duyne and members of the School Board of Trustees and school administrators cuts the ceremonial ribbon during the dedication of the Elise Walker Outdoor Learning Center. /Courtesy Photo

Students in the Irving ISD now have more opportunities to become more personally connected to nature through the Elise Walker Outdoor Learning Center, which was dedicated to the memory of an outstanding educator during a ceremony on Tuesday, Nov. 2. Teachers, students, former students, and Board of Trustees members from Irving ISD gathered to honor Walker who was an Irving ISD Educator for 46 years before retiring in 1976.

“Walker had a big impact on this district for 46 years,” Science Education and Facilities Coordinator Chris Dazer said. “She literally was in the district from the time this was a one room school house in the ‘70s, so she saw it grow from a farm community to an urban area. She influenced so many students and professionals still tied to the community today, and it seemed fitting that the center be named after her.

“I think that is the most powerful testimony to the effect educators have on their students that as many years later the students are still drawn to honor their teacher.”

Steven Jones, who was one of Walker’s former students, is currently the president of the Irving ISD Board of Trustees.

“The board of trustees voted to create this outdoor learning center,” Jones said. “It’s funded by Tiff Funds. This is a joint project between the Irving Independent School District, and the city of Irving, and the Dallas County Community College District’s North Lake College. The three entities work together. The school district built this structure, the land is owned by the college district, and the funds were provided by the Tiff District.”

Jones said the district’s fifth grade students started using the outdoor learning center two weeks ago.

“Right now our fifth graders are using the facility, and we have groups of fifth graders that are here each day,” Jones said. “There is a head teacher here at the facility, then we have four trail guides, and classes from each school are broken into four different groups. The groups go off on independent trail walks, and there are learning stations scattered throughout the trail system.”

The Elise Walker Outdoor Learning Center is located in between Singley Academy and North Lake College.

“The debut of this center is for [the students], giving them the opportunity to observe, experiment and experience the elements of nature face to face,” Chris Dazer said. “When you look out over the 25 acres of land, just envision a classroom, a natural classroom, where hands on learning is now possible.

“All kids regardless of where they live don’t get as much experience outside that they need. There is a thing called outdoor deficit disorder where kids are getting their information from their phones and televisions, and they are not going out seeing it, touching it, smelling it, feeling it, digging for it, trying to keep it alive and catch it with a net, and trying to learn more about it first-hand,” he said.

Beca Deloacha, a walking enthusiast, was very excited to walk the mile-and-a-half trail at the Elise Walker Outdoor center and had plans to continue to utilize the trail.

“We just finished walking an hour on the trails, and we were just overwhelmed with the beauty,” Deloacha said. “It’s a wonderful use of the land. It couldn’t be used for anything else.

“I know that I’m going to go home and send an email to a lot of my friends that like to walk especially if they have dogs that they like to walk. Hopefully, they will have pet care facilities here with plastic bags and everything for the pets, but it will be a wonderful trail for people who live in central Irving and need a place to walk.”