By INDIANA NASH
NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna High senior Tim Cook is looking to give back to the school district before graduation by building an outdoor classroom for students at Birchwood Elementary.
The idea first came about in November when Cook needed a community project to become an Eagle Scout. “I talked to my parents and we had some ideas,” said Cook. The one that stuck was a ‘forest classroom.’
“I called the principal of Birchwood and when I told her about the idea she put me in touch with PTO member Mike Cooper, who had already created a nature trail for students at the school.”
After talking with Cooper about the students’ needs and presenting his idea to the PTO, Cook began designing the classroom with a software called Inventor, which Cook learned how to use in one of his classes.
“Planning everything out was a challenge. It was much more involved than I thought it would be!” said Cook.
The final plans include a large stand with a whiteboard and doors for storing smaller white boards for the students. Benches are already there for the students to have places to sit, and because of Cooper’s work, there is a nature trail leading right to the classroom.
“This way, students can go out here for a history lesson or a math lesson. I remember being in school and just wanting to go outside so bad when I was that age,” said Cook.
One of the only lessons that students were able to complete outdoors prior to Cook’s classroom was called the “five senses,” where students walk around describing what they observe with each sense. Now teachers will be able to expand on their outdoor lesson plans and will be able to keep more students engaged more with the environment outside school walls.
Birchwood’s PTO funded the project and Curtis Lumber gave Cook a discount on the building materials.
Cook began building the classroom April 28 with the help of a few troop members, parents Nancy and Joseph Cook, and his uncle, Thomas Cook. Students were then able to use the classroom after returning from spring break.
Beyond this project, Cook is also doing an internship with RPI. “I’m working with a NASA Sample Retrieval Challenge Team at the school. You have to build a rover that is sustainable on Mars,” said Cook. The winning school gets a large cash prize, but Cook is just glad to be involved in the process for now.
After graduation, Cook is hoping to go to Northeastern University for mechanical engineering.
“I grew up in the suburbs and wanted to be in a different environment and since the school is in Boston, which is a great city. But they also have five-year co-op programs,” said Cook.
During the program, students can learn in a classroom setting for 3-1⁄2 years. Then they are able to get hands-on experience in the field of their choice for the remaining year and a half, and can be paid by whatever company they decide to work for.
Before departing in late August, Cook plans to take advantage of one of the last “free” summers he’ll have for the next few years and spend it relaxing and being around friends and family.
By INDIANA NASH
Each week, Your Niskayuna celebrates an outstanding student by publishing a profile of his or her accomplishments. Students can be between kindergarten and twelfth grade, either enrolled in Niskayuna schools or living in Niskayuna (it’s okay if the student you…Keep reading