The floor is made of composite deck boards and houses eight brightly painted benches for students to sit in the shade of the wooden arbor above. The project was designed by Kai Cobabe, a former student of Prisk who is now in his final year at Millikan High School.
The timing is perfect: In an effort to fight COVID-19, the Long Beach Unified School District has said it will encourage teachers to use appropriate outdoor spaces on their campuses for classroom activities this school year. But plans for Cobabe’s project actually date back to June 2018, when he was speaking with Prisk’s new science teacher, David Macander, who had hoped to use the area for his science lessons.
The idea made sense to Cobabe, who needed a project that would showcase his leadership skills in order to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. Three years later, after many delays caused by the pandemic, the project was finally finished at the start of the current school year.
âIn primary school, we very rarely used the area; and even then the benches and tables that were there were sort of breaking and falling apart, âCobabe recalls from his time in Prisk. âI understood how important and useful this area could be, because even though it wasn’t in the best condition when I was using it, it was still a great place to go.
Once his idea was approved, Cobabe began fundraising for material through GoFundMe, receiving a ton of support from friends, family and strangers. Construction began in April of this year and the project took over four and a half months. Since the start of the school, the finished product has received rave reviews from the school administration.
âWe are delighted to have the newly renovated Outdoor Learning Arbor, and it turned out to be even more amazing than we could have imagined,â said Prisk manager Beth Cohen. ” It’s really unbelievable. The vision Kai had and the fact that he was able to get the resources, talent and lead people to bring his vision to life is amazing.
Teams of volunteers ranging from 10 to 24 workers spent almost every day last summer working under Cobabe’s direction to bring the renovated arbor to life. Kai thanks his father, Kevin, as well as his mentor Eagle and Scoutmaster for helping him develop the skills to oversee this type of project. Interest in design and construction seems to run in the family, as Kevin Cobabe earns a living as an upscale pool and spa contractor.
The original scope of the project did not include the brand new wood floor, but only the washing and replacement of the gravel that made up the existing floor. But when Cobabe received a donation of 200 composite deck boards, he was able to add flooring to accompany the renovated shed and arbor.
With the kids now back on campus, Mike Letteriello, Head of Prisk’s Home Garden, offers tours for interested students during lunchtime. This corner of the campus serves as a sort of living laboratory, with students having the opportunity to gain hands-on learning opportunities in the native garden and the adjacent outdoor classroom.
âI went to a first year science lab where we taught in the learning arbor, and then we went to the native garden, and it was so cool,â Director Cohen said. “It’s such a positive and happy place, and it just catches your eye.”
Cohen said the open-air classroom can be used by any teacher who requests it, whether for science, music or any other subject. The ultimate vision for the area would be to integrate it into the school’s science lab, providing a unique outdoor experience for students.
Cobabe said he’s still waiting for his opportunity to complete his Eagle Board of Review, a requirement to officially earn his Eagle Scout rank. Beyond high school, he plans to pursue chemical engineering studies at Long Beach City College or another college further away from his home.
Wherever he ends up, Cobabe has already left his mark on his former elementary school, creating a learning environment to inspire the next generation of Pioneers.
After 38 years of teaching, she had one last job: helping her students through a pandemic