It provides real-life applications for students.
The Natural Science Academy, a St. Paul Park charter school that opened six years ago, is putting together an outdoor classroom complete with a rain garden, bird feeders and plants and trees that are native to the area.
“We’ve built a really nice entrance arbor,” said Kendra Hunding, the school’s lead teacher. “We’re going to be putting in paths. We’ve dragged in some landscaping in the form of giant logs.”
After moving in 2010 into an empty wing of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, the school was forced to figure out ways to keep its students engaged. Lacking a traditional playground, school officials turned to the idea of the outdoor classroom, which will give teachers the ability to connect science lessons with real-life applications.
About 60 students attend the kindergarschool, which offers kindergarten through grade five.
On a recent afternoon, a group of aspiring scientists darted around the classroom while learning about native animal and plant species, said Hunding, a former Science Museum of Minnesota teacher who oversees fourth and fifth grades.
Past lessons include studying the migratory patterns of warblers.
“We do what’s called place-based education,” she said. “When kids learn about animals, they don’t really learn about rain forest animals,. So they can learn about their place first, and as they get older that forms a basis of comparison.”
She said the school paid for the classroom, using private donations and grant money from private donors, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the University of Minnesota. Local businesses also pitched in with topsoil.
Jim Gleekel, who serves on the school’s board of directors, said the science academy will eventually move into a permanent location. But finding a new home wasn’t a priority, he said.
“Certainly, if we could be in an open land type of area with a more natural environment, rather than in the middle of the city, it would be nice,” Gleekel said. “Yet, we’re very happy with the location that we have.”