Grove Valley Elementary School Principal Debbie Straughn testified before Congress on Tuesday about the benefits of teaching students about the environment. Straughn was part of a panel that spoke before the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, which held a hearing titled Collaborative Solutions to Wildlife and Habitat Management. Straughn spoke to senators about the outdoor classroom started while she served as principal at Deer Creek Elementary School. She said starting an outdoor classroom took many years of work. "At the beginning I wasn’t very successful at some of the things I tried to do, but as I became a partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oklahoma County Conservation Service ... we ended up with an exemplary outdoor classroom,” Straughn said before leaving for Washington. In 2005, Deer Creek Elementary won the Take Pride in America Award for carrying out the goals of the Take Pride in America program, which is coordinated by the U.S. Interior Department with the hope of improving land and the environment across the nation. The idea for the outdoor classroom project, where students, parents and teachers interact with nature to learn about the world around them, was first proposed in 2000, when the Deer Creek School Board accepted responsibility for maintaining a drainage ditch. The ditch, on the south side of the school, was turned into a natural classroom. School officials have planted vegetable and flower gardens and have done various hands-on programs that aim to teach students to be good stewards of the environment. Straughn said having the outdoor classroom has helped her students learn. "When you learn only from a book, it is not as exciting,” she said. "It is very important to do hands-on learning.” Deer Creek School Board President Jim Benson said the board remains committed to promoting and teaching students about the environment. All four elementary schools have land set aside for an outdoor classroom.