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Former Student Honors Teachers with Outdoor Classroom

If you’ve been to Emerson Middle School this year you’ve likely noticed a new set of benches just west of the main entrance.   Those benches are actually an outdoor classroom and were donated as a result of a former Emerson student’s incredibly kind deed.

Henry Morrison is now a sophomore at Maine East but wanted to use his Eagle Scout capstone project to honor beloved Emerson science teachers Miss Charlene John and Mrs. Jody Baty, both who have passed away in recent years.  He never had the fortune of having Mrs. Baty, but “only ever heard good things” while John made a lasting impact.

“Miss John had a passion for school and it showed in her style of teaching,” said Morrison, “She loved nature and always had interesting projects for us to do on Earth Day”.

Morrison, who has been in Boy Scouts since fourth grade, saw the capstone project as an opportunity to honor both.

“I knew I wanted to do something in their honor so in the fall of 2020 I reached out to (Emerson Principal) Dr. (Samantha) Alaimo and she helped get the ball rolling while (District 64 Assistant Director of Facility Management) Jason Borst helped make sure we could pull this off.”

Donations from both the Emerson staff and John’s family soon flooded in to help fund the project.

“It’s amazing to see a former Emerson Eagle giving back to the community and honoring beloved staff members,” said Alaimo, “Henry’s contribution expands to the entire staff and student body and allows for new learning opportunities at Emerson.”

It was John’s widower, Clay Geschke, that then provided Morrison with perhaps the greatest assistance.

“Clay has an incredible passion for wood working and is incredibly skilled at the craft,” noted Morrison, “He was so helpful in every step of the process and I couldn’t have done this without him.”

That process included everything from getting necessary school and District 64 approvals, purchasing all supplies, and ultimately constructing the benches, something his fellow Troop 50 members volunteered to help with.

“I was unsure of getting into Boy Scouts originally but decided to follow my brother’s lead in fourth grade,” said Morrison, “I quickly fell in love with it as I realized my love and passion for nature through it, a passion I shared with Miss John.”

Morrison spent part of this summer furthering that passion as his Troop backpacked for over a week through New Mexico.

“It’s my favorite memory from being in the Scouts,” said Morrison, “We scaled an 11,000-foot mountain and spent nine days entirely away from society.”

Morrison calls the end result of that trip a lesson in bravery and courage.

Meanwhile, the end result of his project are eight benches that can be converted to tables and an outdoor classroom that Emerson students and staff are already benefiting from, something Morrison thinks Miss John would approve of.

“She was bright, inspiring, and unconventional in the best way possible,” said Morrison, “I hope years from now these benches will have helped several students experience a new approach to learning in a way Miss John would have enjoyed.”

See photos of the new outdoor classroom and Henry speaking at Emerson's teacher institute day

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At D64, our mission is to foster opportunities for discovery, engagement, and growth for all students. We accomplish this by nurturing interdependence, appreciation of differences, and care for self and others.

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