New outdoor classroom benefiting Brookwood High agricultural students

New outdoor classroom benefiting Brookwood High agricultural students

By Donna Cope, Alabama NewsCenter

With a population of 321 million, the U.S. has a “whole lotta hungry people” to feed. One solution to the tremendous need, Jennifer Crutchfield believes, lies in sustainability and ensuring there are commodities to feed the nation.

That’s why this Brookwood High School teacher applied for the Alabama Power Foundation’s Students To Stewards educational grant. In 2014, Crutchfield received $7,500 to create an outdoor classroom to grow plants in a sustainable garden. Brookwood is among one of Alabama’s few high schools that include agriculture as part of its career technology department. Crutchfield was thrilled to receive a grant in Students to Stewards’ inaugural year.

HERO-Brookwood-outdoor-class-500x200Crutchfield, an agriculture education teacher at the Tuscaloosa school for 11 years, is excited to see a dream come to fruition. After several false starts – construction was rained out three times – students and volunteers for Alabama Power Service Organization’s Western Division Chapter helped build a raised, wooden teaching platform, an area in which to grow plants and 12 wooden benches.

“Now, we’re using our new outdoor classroom multiple times a week, often every day,” said an excited Crutchfield. “I went out today with one of my classes, and I was training them to propagate the plants. We’re growing vegetables, and we’re studying how to manage erosion.”

Students have planted nine raised beds with rotation crops, including strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and muscadines. Crutchfield, who earned a bachelor’s degree in education at the University of Illinois, said her goal is to bring agricultural expertise to her students.

“I want my students to know that agriculture can give you a job, and it can provide a good living,” she said. “We try to apply hands-on applications for growing plants, for food and for horticultural needs. We teach them how to safely use wheelbarrows and other equipment. Pretty much all of my students will need to use equipment to be college-ready. This class covers a multitude of careers and opportunities for students.”

Among volunteers who assisted with the daylong project, APSO was fortunate to recruit Anthony Williams, maintenance technician – Western Division Office. With several years’ experience as a general contractor, Williams immediately signed up to help. He knew that his 17-year-old son, Drew, an agricultural student, would also benefit.

Before construction, Williams met with Crutchfield to check blueprints and discuss preliminary work. Before work began, the school cleared the site of weeds and debris.

“With the help of several students, we completed preliminary layout of the site before construction,” Williams said. “The students worked alongside APSO volunteers, completing much of the work themselves.”

A steady stream of agricultural students worked from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. with APSO members Curry Bennett, Joseph Brown, Mark Crews, Drew Downs, Carlette Durham, Carlos Gonzalez, Bryan Giles, Josh Hodges, Justin Rigsby and Anna Catherine Roberson.

APSO volunteers removed invasive plants from the area and worked with the students, showing them safe ways to use tools. Under the watchful eyes of their teacher and volunteers, the students helped build the platform, dug postholes for benches and cemented-in the legs.


The new outdoor classroom will have far-reaching effects on the school’s 250 agricultural students and the state, said Crews, Western Division vice president at Alabama Power.

“This project presented a unique opportunity for us to not only work hand in hand with students to build something they can be proud of and use for many years to come, but to also teach them to appreciate the value of being a good steward of our environment,” Crews said. “These students are our future workforce, and it is classes like this one at Brookwood High School that will prepare them for whatever path they choose to follow.”

Crutchfield said she appreciates the help of APSO members and the Alabama Power Foundation in helping make her dream for an outdoor classroom a reality.

“We can’t stand alone as educators,” Crutchfield said. “To do what we do, it takes the community and business partners such as Alabama Power and other like-minded community members who invest in students.”

The Students To Stewards grant program is part of Alabama Power and Alabama Power Foundation’s Brighter Minds education initiative. In 2015, Students To Stewards will award 20 grants: six outdoor classroom grants worth up to $7,500 each and 14 classroom curriculum grants worth up to $1,000 each. For more information about Students to Stewards, Brighter Minds and other Alabama Power Foundation and Alabama Power community programs, visit


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