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Jefferson dedicates outdoor learning space to Sletta, students who created it

A special ceremony honoring former elementary teacher Beth Norman Sletta and her efforts in establishing the Jefferson Outdoor Learning Space was held Friday. A new sign recognizing Sletta was hung and current Jefferson STEM teacher Amber Schaefer read a speech in honor of Sletta and the garden. The sign reads “Jefferson Outdoor Learning Space - Est. by Beth Norman Sletta and the Students of Jefferson School.”

NEW ULM — A special dedication ceremony was held at Jefferson Elementary Friday to honor former teacher Beth Norman Sletta for helping establish the Jefferson Outdoor Learning Space.

Sletta retired from teaching at Jefferson in 2020, but returned to the dedication ceremony Friday. Current Jefferson Elementary STEM teacher Amber Schaefer gave a speech in honor of the Outdoor Learning Space and Sletta.

The Jefferson Outdoor Learning Space is a garden established in spring 2017 by Sletta and the students of Jefferson. The outdoor space served as a method for delivering instruction in agriculture science for students at the school. The project began as a simple above-ground planning bed and expanded to include more areas, including a pergola.

In July 2020, the school officially named the garden space “The Jefferson Outdoor Learning Space.” A sign was commissioned with the new name. In addition to the new sign, Jefferson staff asked to honor Sletta and the students who made the space possible. Sletta retired in 2020 and staff wanted to honor her service to the school.

Sletta said the most important part of the dedication sign is the part that acknowledged the students.

She said it was not her intention to build the garden. It had been the idea of third-grade students who wanted a raised garden bed.

“It grew from there, figuratively and literally,” Sletta said.

Sletta began teaching at Jefferson in 1987. She taught first, second and third grade, Title I, technology, led Makerspace and developed the STEM program at Jefferson.

The ceremony was a chance to dedicate the Outdoor Learning Space, but also give staff a chance to give Sletta a farewell celebration. Her retirement during the start of the COVID pandemic had prevented staff from giving her a proper goodbye.

Schaefer said the Outdoor Learning Space was a wonderful resource. In addition to teaching student agriculture science, It had been a great benefit during the COVID pandemic. The pergola severed as an outdoor space for students to work.

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