The community came together to give one South Knoxville elementary school an outdoor classroom. But a surprise from a national organization is going to help take it to the next level.
It all started in 2015 when a Sierra Club volunteer, who helps with the Urban Wilderness Club, noticed there were overgrown trails behind Dogwood Elementary school. He wanted a place to hike with the kids that didn't require taking them off campus.
Dogwood is a community school where kids stay later in the day and participate in after school clubs.
Adam Fritz, the community school coordinator, had the idea to renovate those trails and create an outdoor classroom when a teacher came to him looking for ways to teach science outside.
More than a dozen CAC AmeriCorps and community volunteers cleaned up the trails and built outdoor seating on Make a Difference Day with a $500 grant from Knox County.
WBIR's parent company, TEGNA, learned about their efforts and sent WBIR Meteorologist Todd Howell to offer some extra help.
"We want to thank you for all of your hard work that you've already done, but there's more. On behalf of the TEGNA Make a Difference Foundation we want to encourage you to do much more and even greater things," said Howell.
He presented the school with a check for $10,000 to expand and add to their outdoor learning experience.
"This gives our kids the chance to have their own urban wilderness in the backyard of the school. We've called it their backyard forest. Getting kids outside and giving them the chance to experience nature," said Fritz.
Fritz said Dogwood Elementary is the 6th poorest school by percentage in Knox County, and many of the students don't have the opportunity to go hiking or explore the outdoors.
"A lot of the trails and things that have happened in South Knoxville have been awesome, but in some ways are out of reach to those who actually live here. This is a way to put it in their backyard," Fritz said.
The school is asking the kids in the Urban Wilderness Club to help decide how to spend the $10,000 grant.