Ashton Offutt was just in fourth grade when he came up with the idea of creating an outdoor classroom — but it wasn’t until he was a high school junior that the idea became reality.
Ashton, who is seeking the rank of Eagle Scout, enlisted the help of volunteers and raised money to create an outdoor learning space, with a sunshield, at Claywell Elementary.
Ashton said part of the motivation for creating the classroom outdoors is because he knows having that would have benefited him, personally, during his early school years.
The Gaither High student estimates it took about 40 hours to plan the project and about 30 to complete the work.
He had lots of helpers.
Tampa Electric Co. stepped up, donating six 15-foot poles and a crew to help install them.
They had planned to use a crane, but that had to be scrapped because the concrete was too thin and the weight of the crane could have cracked it, Ashton explained.
So, five grown men worked together to lift and guide the poles, which had to be buried 5 feet into the ground to support the sunshade, Ashton said.
The weather-resistant fabric stretches above 12 classroom benches, a dry erase board and a communication board.
The communication board is a tool to enable students who can’t speak to convey what they want to say, Ashton said.
In addition to the TECO crew, folks from the BPOE Elks Tampa 708 and others pitched in — for a total of 57 volunteers. Ashton also raised $3,845 to pay for the project.
Scouting has been a way of life for Ashton who became a Tiger Scout shortly after finishing kindergarten. He’s now a member of Boy Scout Troop 339, in Lutz.
Ashton has a connection to Claywell because he went to school there. To this day, he appreciates the help he received from his tutor, Jenny Paloumpis, who is still a teacher at the Northdale school.
Permission for the project at the school came from Claywell Elementary Principal Rob Jones and from the Greater Tampa Bay Area Council, Boy Scouts of America, said Lynnette Offutt, Ashton’s mom.
Besides scouting, Ashton enjoys orienteering with the Gaither High School ROTC program, and operating remote-control cars.
He plans to attend college, but isn’t sure which one yet — and he aspires to join the U.S. Army, where he hopes to be part of a bomb squad, working with canines to sniff out explosives.
Published September 09, 2020