Nature-focused classrooms open to Sebring students

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A California-based company has created natural classrooms in Sebring for student enjoyment.

Living Earth Structures and its owner, Miguel Elliott, have been in Florida for about a year.

Elliott told that he built all four classrooms at Sebring. Classrooms are constructed of foam, cardboard and “Earthen Adobe” plaster. They were built on a site called “The PARC” in Citrus County. The property itself is zoned as agricultural and since the structures are used for educational purposes, Elliott said no permit was required.

The school is called ‘The Academy at the PARC’ and according to Elliott it teaches ‘basic arithmetic, English, reading, science and history, but the school mainly focuses on raising awareness and appreciation of the arts and nature”.

Gabriele Beland, program coordinator and administrator of the PARC Academy, said the school has two components, including a home-learning module for children and hands-on art classes open to the public. Beland said, “PARC” stands for Practical Arts Resort Campus.

“There are lots of opportunities for children to participate in hands-on activities and experiential learning. There’s kind of a Waldorf-themed curriculum that the teachers used to guide the teaching process,” Elliott said.

“Children are divided into age groups for morning hours and go to cob classrooms to do reading and academic assignments. Depending on age, they either follow a nature-based curriculum or a homeschool curriculum with your typical school subjects,” Beland explained.

In the afternoons, students go to the main building to learn the hands-on arts, which change every few weeks. This year, students will complete hands-on projects in the areas of drawing, leatherworking, woodworking, nature study, archery, wilderness survival, multimedia art and more. The children also have a “farm chore to introduce them to life and responsibility on the farm,” according to Beland.

“These classes are held either in one of the cob classrooms, built by Miguel, or in our “Big Barn”, multi-sue space or in the garden, or outdoor kitchen, or in the 30 acres of wooded grounds adjacent to PARC, depending on the needs of each class,” Beland said.

Hands-on art classes open to the public are a work in progress, but Beland said next year the PARC Academy plans to offer a host of classes like blacksmithing, gardening, fermenting and preserving. food, fiber arts, forest bathing, seed saving. and more.

“The [structures] provide an excellent demonstration model for very economical, easy-to-build, fire-resistant, well-insulated and durable structures,” said Elliott.

Previously, Elliott created a “clay oven” at a Sebring restaurant called “Faded.” The restaurant has a channel that “floats pizzas, similar to a sushi bar”.

In November 2021, Elliott taught a cob building class at the school, building the kiln.

“It was a lot of work, but we fell in love with this type of building so much. We needed classrooms for the start of our microschool, so we asked Miguel if he was up to the challenge of building 4 classrooms for the Academy,” said Beland. “Now, 9 months later, the children are learning in a beautiful space, surrounded by earth, a living and breathing structure, which they helped to build. Few children can say that they got their hands dirty to build their own learning space. Miguel really pays attention to detail to make these classrooms an inspiring learning environment.

Beland said the Academy’s website at PARC is currently under construction and those interested in learning more should visit the Sebring Institute online for now.

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