Former Falcon volunteers at elementary school’s outdoor learning lab

Credit: Cahill Productions for Mercedes-Benz USA

Credit: Cahill Productions for Mercedes-Benz USA

Students at Dunbar Elementary School, in the Mechanicsville neighborhood, received a huge surprise April 19. Mercedes Benz-USA teamed up with Matt Ryan for National Volunteer Week to create an outdoor learning lab at the school with the help of nonprofit Out Teach.

Out Teach is a nationwide organization that is focused on preparing students to become the future workforce. They have shared their curriculum that focuses on problem solving through real life, hands-on application with more than 400 schools, and they have transformed 184 outdoor school spaces into outdoor learning labs. The organization focuses on science in the early years in hopes that if children are inspired by science at a young age, they will choose it as a path in the future.

“We were so excited to partner with Mercedes Benz-USA on this Out Teach project at Dunbar Elementary, because their values align so perfectly with ours,” said Jeanne McCarty, CEO of Out Teach. “Their campaign, Driving Your Future, is focused on empowering the next generation. That’s exactly what we hope to do. More than 140 of their volunteers showed up bright and early to work at Dunbar. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, Matt Ryan came, too. Those students were so happy.”

Credit: Cahill Productions for Mercedes-Benz USA

Credit: Cahill Productions for Mercedes-Benz USA

Ryan, who played for the Falcons for 14 years, then the Indianapolis Colts for one season, is currently a free agent, and lives in Atlanta with his wife Sarah and three sons, twins Johnny and Marshall, 5, and newborn Cal.

“Atlanta is the place where we settled down and started our life together and people have been so good to us right from the start,” said Ryan. “Both my wife and I have a strong belief that it’s everyone’s responsibility to make your community better. We live by the motto “to whom much is given, much is expected,” so we continue to support and make it the best possible community for our kids and all kids.”

Ryan has worked as an ambassador for Mercedes Benz USA since 2017 and is passionate about the opportunities the gig provides to give back, particularly with youth.

“Mercedes does such a good job giving back and a project like this at Dunbar, creating an outdoor learning space, is just so awesome,” said Ryan. “I remember doing “class on the grass” when I was in school and loving it. I think that part’s exciting. It’s not just recess, it’s the opportunity to do classwork outside. So much research shows that being exposed to sunlight is good for the brain, moods, our emotional well-being. It’s important for everyone, but probably even more significant for children. Atlanta has a climate that allows us to be outdoors more and a project like this makes so much sense. This is my first time working with Out Teach, but definitely not the last.”

Ryan was joined by a group of students while he volunteered. They painted rocks, birdhouses, and a wooden library to store free books, and they gardened together.

“The highlight of my day was meeting the kids and getting their questions,” said Ryan. “It’s always funny when I hear, ‘you don’t look this big on TV.’

Principal Ernest Sessoms said his students were thrilled by Ryan’s visit and their new outdoor addition.

“We’ve not had a celebrity at the school before,” said Sessoms. “The students were jumping up and down, squealing ‘it’s really him!’ As principal, experiences like these make me happy and proud. To have this outdoor classroom experience created for our kids, especially in the digital world we’re living in, it’s amazing. We want to strive for balance. Access to technology is important, of course, but making human connections, getting out and exploring, and collaborating is something that can’t be negated or replaced.”

The project, which Out Teach refers to as the “Big Dig,” took a blank space near Dunbar’s playground and created a real-world lab, complete with an earth science station, rainwater harvesters, compost bins, vegetable and flower beds, animal habitats, and more. The space will be used as part of a three-year partnership for teachers to help students learn new skills outside of the classroom.

“The transformation literally happened before our eyes,” said Sessoms. “We’re excited, humbled, and grateful to be the recipient of such an outstanding project. I’m so happy for our students.”

To learn more about Out Teach, visit