The first-grade heads moved in a bouncing fashion as they followed Kim Valentine’s shepherd’s crook around the gravel and dirt pathways at Auburn-Washburn USD437’s Outdoor Environmental Education Lab on Wednesday.
It was a windy day. They were greeted by a few snowflakes and reminded by the cold winds that spring is just beginning.
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The children of Pauline Elementary School were still excited. Some tracks in the mud indicated increased animal activity. A few meadowlarks sang as the students, teachers, and parents embarked on their first field trip to the district’s outdoor education laboratory.
After COVID-19 disrupted their academic career, the first-grade class of this year has not yet had a normal school year. Due to bus driver shortages, field trips out of town have been impossible this school year.
Auburn-Washburn is fortunate in that it has its 50-acre outdoor education campus. This means that students don’t need to travel far to learn more about nature, according to Donna Sanders, outdoor education coordinator.
Turning the globe into USD 437’s Outdoor Classroom
Auburn-Washburn USD437 has two mobile buildings. On Wednesday, the Pauline Elementary School students spent much of their time learning about environment concepts and projects in these spaces.
Sanders believes that all of the outdoor areas around 50 acres of wilderness, including the nature trails, two lakes and open-air learning pavillons, are their own classrooms.
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Sanders said, “A classroom’ is where you learn things.” Every class learns something new every time they come here. You can go out to the pond and learn more about the muskrats living in that area. You can learn more about the prairie and grasslands when the grasses have grown high.
Auburn-Washburn USD437’s Outdoor Environmental Education Program was established in 1993. The district was given 50 acres of land adjacent to its middle school and high school campuses.
The terms of the land were that it should be used for environmental education. The district discourages the public from walking through the outdoor classroom.
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Sanders stated that Sanders was amazed that someone would give Sanders this opportunity and tell him the land should be used for environmental education. There are many parks you could visit, but this is the only one that offers the children the chance to learn about the environment right here in the neighborhood.
Each grade of the district’s elementary school has made an annual fieldtrip to the outdoor classroom every year for the past nearly 30 years. Sanders estimates that over a thousand children from Auburn-Washburn have visited the grounds in the last few years.
The spring is the most popular time for younger grades, while the fall is the best time for older elementary students. The camp also hosts several sessions in the summer. Summer science camp paidJenni Howard, district gifted program facilitator, is leading the charge.
Payed volunteers are often retired workers who come from educational or agricultural backgrounds. They lead classes that are tailored to their level of understanding in the various outdoor and indoor spaces on campus.
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Valentine, an outdoor education instructor with the shepherd’s crook, stated that “the kids really need to spend more time outside than they do at school.” Valentine is a former teacher in sixth grade and kindergarten. “They really need to have the chance to explore, learn and recognize what’s all around them.”
Giving kids a greater appreciation of the outdoors
Sanders believes that Earth Day is approaching and that outdoor environmental education labs like the Outdoor Environmental Education Lab can be a great way to teach kids about nature and help them appreciate it as they get older, and make decisions that impact the environment.
“We say, “Save the environment,” right?” Sanders asked. Sanders asked.
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The $145 million bond issue that was recently passed by the district opens the doors to improvements to the Outdoor Environmental Education Program. There is also funding available to help washburn rural middle school’s north end get more classrooms and serve as the outdoor lab hub.
Sanders, a retired teacher, said she was happy the bond initiative passed. However, she is concerned that moving the indoor classrooms farther south and onto the middle schools could make it more difficult for the young elementary students to hike outdoors.
However, she hopes that the center remains a source of pride in the district, especially if it is shared with more people outside of the school community.
Liam Kirby from Pauline Elementary School, a first-grade student, told reporters that he was thrilled to be on his first ever fieldtrip.
Liam stated, “I just wish it were a sunnier day.”
Lindsay Smith, Liam’s teacher, said that her students have been fascinated with the idea of field trips since she told them that they would be going to the Outdoor Environmental Education Campus. There have been many questions, including: Where were they going? What is the average length of field trips? What would they do if they got there?
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She joked that she had waited until only three weeks before she told them she was coming.
Smith, a Pauline teacher in the first grade, stated that “anything that is hands on is really great for our young, elementary-aged students.” “It gives them an interest in science, which is very important in our society. This inspires them to dream of becoming scientists.
Rafael Garcia is an education reporter at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia