Beeman Elementary School installs a ‘mud kitchen’

NEW HAVEN — The phrase came up at a staff meeting at Beeman Elementary School in the fall of 2017.
“Mud kitchen.”
Robin Shalline was intrigued.
“It started percolating,” she said. “I thought, What is a mud kitchen? I googled it, looked it up on Pinterest, and I thought, We’ve got to have this.”
In mid-April, thanks to a collaboration among students, parents, community members and a local business, Beeman got its own mud kitchen.
Just in time for mud season.
Shalline, who retired last June after teaching at Beeman for 36 years, returned to the school to witness the delivery.
“I just had to see it,” she said. “The final piece to this idea we were dreaming about as a staff — it was so exciting.”
“We are the Kindergarten Class at Beeman Elementary School,” Caitlin Christie’s students wrote in letters to the Beeman parent-teacher organization and to local building-supply company r.k. Miles last year. “We are hoping to have a mud kitchen for our Outdoor Classroom. It already has a Beehive for the kids to play on, and we love to make forts.”
Their wish list included wood, a metal sink, buckets, kitchen tools and “a sink sprayer (if possible 🙂 ).”
Kindergarteners weren’t the only ones reaching out to adults about the project, however.
“My daughter Eleanor had been in Robin’s class and was so moved by the idea of a mud kitchen that she wanted to accomplish it in her honor,” said Beeman parent Dawn Laprise-Hurlburt, who at the time was employed by r.k. Miles. “And she stayed on me as her mother to make it come to fruition.”
PRINCIPAL TRAVIS PARK (in suit and tie) helps transport a component of Beeman’s new “mud kitchen” on a sunny but cool day last month. The kitchen, which was built in two parts by community member Chris Crane, has been installed near a stream, so pupils will have easy access to water and, of course, mud.
Photo courtesy of Dawn Laprise-Hurlburt
After her employer donated more than $800 worth of materials, Laprise-Hurlburt turned to her partner, Chris Crane.
“We talked to the teachers about the layout of the kitchen and then Chris built it,” Laprise-Hurlburt said.
The result far exceeded Shalline’s original vision.
“I was originally thinking about something built from old pallets,” she said. “They have created an unbelievable masterpiece. It’s better than my kitchen. I was looking at it and thinking, What kind of faucet is this? Where did that sink come from?”
Beeman grades 2/3 teacher Jen Johnson also confessed to a bit of kitchen envy.
“This is literally nicer than my own kitchen,” she said.
The students like it, too.
“The sixth-graders seemed as excited as the third-graders,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if they’ll actually use it as much as the younger kids, but when it was delivered they were pushing buttons and turning knobs and testing it out.”
The kitchen’s two sections — sink and stove — are installed near the stream that runs through the school’s Outdoor Classroom, so kids can have easy access to water — and mud.
And the space is adaptable, Laprise-Hurlburt pointed out.
“This isn’t a one-and-done thing,” she said. “If anyone else has an idea abut how to add on to this project — this is open to that.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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