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CLERMONT - Victoria Wright considers an outdoor classroom a natural educational environment.
The Bernheim Middle School eighth grade Language Arts instructor implements the school’s outdoor facilities whenever possible as a learning stimulant toward student lesson plans.
The success from her outdoor implementation combined with students’ success and respect from her peers led Wright to her title as the 2012 Bullitt County Middle School Teacher of the Year.
Wright’s emphasis on outdoor learning was fostered by a one-year trip to Sweden. She completed the Master of Arts in Outdoor Environmental Education and Outdoor Life as part of her Rank 1 training.
According to Wright, the program emphasized learning in natural environments. Teachers gathered from around the world to participate.
“The program really focused on classroom teachers of any age and any subject area,” she said. “We had 13 countries represented in our classroom.”
Wright’s Swedish experience in outdoor community learning activities carried over to Bernheim lesson plans. Students participated in a program called Tips Promenade, an outdoor event in which students search for answers.
“That experience helped me in many more ways than I can dream possible,” Wright said.
Bernheim’s outdoor classroom allowed Wright an opportunity to implement various lessons in a safe natural environment. The area was a primary reason she came to the school, crediting former principal Bob Bright for mentioning it.
The outdoor classroom does not limit Wright’s education possibilities. She took 20 eighth-grade members of Bernheim’s Environmental Club, Planet BMS, on a field trip to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.
“Some students wrote journals,” said Wright. “One girl said she knew it was ‘cool to be who I am’ while one said they talked to people they’ve never talked to before.”
Bernheim assistant principal Missy Mills and technology instructor Patrick Swencki assisted with the Tremont trip. Mills said outdoor activities and team-building exercises greatly influenced the students that attended.
“The greatest thing about the trip was that Mrs. Wright, Mr. Swencki and myself got to see our students working together in a totally different environment than a classroom,” said Mills. “It was an awesome experience for all of us. Our students are some of the most creative and caring students we have ever seen.”
Wright mentioned author Richard Louv, known for his books emphasizing nature. She said Louv’s phrase, “Natural Deficit Disorder,” meant today’s kids were missing out on their environment due to technological advances and distractions.
“Students are engaged instantly when you take them outside for a lesson,” said Wright. “There are no complaints during outdoor lessons. Plus the students get a few minutes of play time at the end. We all need that.”
“(Wright) brings her love of the outdoors to her classroom each day,” said Mills. “The students benefit by the change of scenery, getting fresh air and they learn about the environment with their writing assignments. She spreads the love of the outdoors to all of her students.”
Wright has also taken students to field trips at nearby Bernheim Forest and Jefferson Memorial Forest, though the school’s outdoor classroom provides a nice convenience.
“It was a huge motivation for me to come here,” she said. “I could not be in a better place. It’s the dream of every outdoor teacher wanting to do education.”
Wright said the classroom was unkempt when she first arrived, but students were quick to assist in sprucing up and getting it ready for use.
“The club members felt responsible for it,” she said. “They built a path from the school building with mulch donated by Berneim Forest. They’ve done landscaping at the school. We’ll clean up an aquatic classroom next year.”
Wright has always had a fondness for the outdoors, growing up in farm country near Hamilton, Ohio.
“From the time we could walk we were outside,” Wright recalled. “We were mushroom hunting, fishing, everything, and we were involved in 4-H. It’s a part of who I am to just want to be outside. I love that a lot of (Bernheim) students grew up the same way.”
Her upbringing leaned Wright toward becoming a naturalist while attending middle and high school. By college she was ready to pursue psychology.
Wright met her future husband, Todd, prior to attending Morehead State University. Todd, an Ashland native, studied music and also became a teacher.
After two years Wright left school to help Todd teach band. Upon returning she knew she would change her degree to English and pursue teaching.
“I knew I wanted to teach then,” she said. “I liked the higher level of English, I wanted to teach how to write.”
Wright mentioned her high school English teacher, Tom Romano. She recalled him as a “fantastic and motivational instructor” who would become a role model in her own teaching methods.
After college Wright began working for the Hardin County school system, primarily at Radcliff Middle School from 1989 through 2009, with a one-year stint at My Old Kentucky Home Middle School in Nelson County.
In her first year at Bernheim, Wright feels she found a permanent home for her unique approach to student education.
“The teachers here love their jobs and they are very dedicated,” she said. “They are welcoming and very appreciative of what you do, very supportive. I felt at home from the minute I walked in, it’s a warm atmosphere. It’s wonderful to know people expect things from me and appreciate what I do. Being chosen by these teachers was the real award.”
“The students get so excited to go outside even to write,” said Mills. “So many middle school students do not like to write but Mrs. Wright always seems to find ways to help the students enjoy their writing assignments. She is a special person and teacher. BMS is very fortunate to have her teaching our students.”
Above all, Wright said Bernheim’s students were the best part of her job.
“The kids here are warm, wonderful, friendly and caring for you,” she said. “The kids really need you at this age. It’s a wonderful thing to see them grow over a school year.”