Pheasants Forever takes kids under wingAn outdoor learning area, where teachers can develop nature-based curricula and students can learn with hands-on experience, is expected to be completed at Duluth’s Homecroft Elementary School later this year.
An outdoor learning area, where teachers can develop nature-based curricula and students can learn with hands-on experience, is expected to be completed at Duluth’s Homecroft Elementary School later this year.
The “Habitat for Homecroft” was made possible by conservation group Pheasants Forever, which purchased a tax-forfeited acre of land adjacent to the school and plans to restore the area to its natural habitat.
“This is a really exciting thing for our students,” said Homecroft principal Sue Lehna. “They love to be out there. If we can maximize excitement for learning, that’s all that matters.”
The lot has not been maintained, and overgrowth first has to be removed from the space, according to David Lood, youth director for the
St. Louis-Carlton County chapter of Pheasants Forever.
“It’s an inhibiting environment for native animals,” he said. “We’ll work on clearing what needs to be cleared.”
Plans call for the space to include a natural trail and several stations, or rest stops, for learning activities. Weather permitting, work will begin this spring and finish before the snow flies again next winter.
“Teachers have great ideas on how to use space to reinforce curriculum and expose students to different ways of learning,” Lehna said. “You can take writing outside — journaling in nature. Or take books outside for reading in fresh air. It’s not just science and nature skills.”
The Duluth Area Family YMCA is another partner in the project. The YMCA’s KEY Zone program provides after-school and summer activities for
students at the school, and the new outdoor learning area will be incorporated into the program.
“It will give us an opportunity for hands-on learning,” said Lori Maly, KEY Zone site coordinator at Homecroft. “We’re basically in a wetlands area, so there are opportunities to study watershed, do wetland studies and just to observe different habitats and the lifecycle.”
The KEY Zone program has a presence at every elementary school in Duluth. About 110 students are enrolled in the program, and about 50 take part during the summer, Maly said.
The Habitat for Humanity project is an example of how the community can work with schools to provide additional learning opportunities for students, she said.
“The message we want to get across is the importance of the community working together to provide additional programming for kids in communities,” Maly said. “It’s a really important piece within the city. Working with the city of Duluth and having a lot of different organizations coming together do things for the community and kids, it’s a very neat thing.”
Pheasants Forever became involved in the project — which Homecroft staff members have long been interested in — because of the limited resources schools have, Lood said.
“School districts don’t have money,” he said. “This is the future of learning.”
Pheasants Forever is a national nonprofit conservation group, founded in Minnesota in 1982. Its core values are conserving wildlife habitats and educating children.
The organization has developed the Leopold Education Project, based on the writings of conservationist Aldo Leopold, and provides curriculum materials to teachers.
Pheasants Forever also works directly with children through outdoor activities. The Ringnecks program, for example, introduces youth to outdoor recreation, shooting sports and conservation through various events.
“The idea is we want to involve kids in the community from square one,” Lood said. “We want them to start looking at restoring natural habitats into something that will support native plants and animals for this area.”
Pheasants Forever has chapters throughout the country, but this is the first time a project like the Habitat for Homecroft project has been undertaken, Lood said, and it’s sparking a lot of interest.
“We’ve got a big national audience looking at Duluth, Minn., where we don’t even have pheasants,” he said. “Everyone’s saying, ‘We can learn from this.’”
Pheasants Forever Annual Banquet
WHERE: Spirit Mountain Lodge
WHEN: April 26.
COST: $65 (includes dinner and annual membership)
HOW: Call Matt Bremer for details or to register to attend: 218-349-6126
WHY: To learn more about wildlife conservation and youth education