Shakopee students build environmental center

  • Article by: SARAH LEMAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 31, 2011 - 11:29 PM

The goal behind the Shakopee High building: "No child left inside."


Shakopee High School students Jake Lebens and Tony Sohns worked on making a safety rail on the roof of the school’s new environmental learning center.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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Shakopee High's new environmental learning center is small and unfinished, but the building at the far side of the school's parking lot is already a learning hub.

Students in the school's construction classes are building the structure themselves, learning how to pour footings and install windows as they go. Wood frames for raised beds that lay near the building last week mark a budding community garden that several students went to the school board seeking permission to start.

Teachers looking forward to the building's completion next year envision much more: Demonstration gardens planted with help from Scott County's master gardeners. Biology lessons in which students catch creatures from a nearby pond and bring them back to the learning center for examination under microscopes. Plant sales made possible by a small greenhouse at the back of the building.

"The potential is just unlimited," said Brian Christian, an industrial technology teacher who has overseen students during the construction phase of the project this year.

Art classes could visit the building's gardens to sketch plants, he said. The learning center will also boast a 35-foot wind turbine and solar panels with output meters, which science teachers could use in lessons about energy efficiency.

The project, which school leaders estimate will cost about $200,000, is funded mostly through grants and donations.

It got started a few years ago, when former principal Jim Murphy and several teachers pitched the concept to Lowe's Home Improvement in a grant application.

Starting with a pledge of $50,000 from Lowe's, the school gathered donated materials, labor and cash from a long list of local businesses. The school district has also committed $20,000, said Assistant Principal Paul Nettesheim.

The budget doesn't include heating or air conditioning, which Christian estimated would cost $4,000 to $6,000. Teachers are still trying to raise the extra money so they can use the building year-round.

Hands-on learning is goal

Ed Loiselle and Billy Koenig, who team-teach a class on environmental ethics and ecology at Shakopee High, hope the building will make it easier for teachers to hold classes outdoors.

Both are big believers in hands-on learning. "Right in our syllabus, we say, 'Plan to get dirty,'" Loiselle said.

Last month, their students hosted hundreds of elementary kids who visited Shakopee High to learn about geocaching, identify trees and even try out fly fishing. Fly fishing practice takes place at a drainage pond where Loiselle said a koi and other domestic fish have been spotted.

The way Loiselle sees it, those lessons and others that will be taught at the environmental learning center share an important goal:

"No child left inside."

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016

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