NKE Arboretum Becomes Nature Explore Certified

NatureExploreCertificationRight before our winter break we got the exciting news that the NKE Arboretum had earned certification as a Nature Explore outdoor classroom. Nature Explore is a collaborative program of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation that works to transform children’s lives through science-based outdoor classroom design. This certification is a goal we had been working on for two-and-a-half years now, so it’s fair to say we were thrilled to get the news. We are only the second classroom in Wisconsin to receive this honor!

A little background: Our NKE Arboretum space had been worked on here and there over its many years, but by spring 2012, it was more notable for the amount of brambles and weeds growing there than its usefulness as an educational space. At the suggestion of NKE parent Christine Koth, a small group of parents (OK, to be precise, Christine and I) met with a small group of staff. Consensus was that we were fortunate to have this wonderful space in our school, but we certainly weren’t taking advantage of it to help educate our kids.

Things moved quickly from there and haven’t stopped since. We decided to use the guidelines from Nature Explore as our blueprint for transforming the space. A local landscape architect donated his time to create a rendering, and we’ve been chipping away at that rendering ever since as time and donations have allowed. With the installation of our “tree cookie patio” this fall we completed all the major site requirements. That, combined with some staff attending a Nature Explore seminar about best practices for outdoor education, allowed us to earn certification.

I would like to send out a big thank you to everyone who has contributed to this project in any way. The support we’ve received not just from staff and families but also various groups in our community has been fantastic, and seeing our children outside learning in the space is even better.

Although we received certification, we aren’t done yet! We still have a long list of improvements we’ll be working on this spring, including improved path surfaces and installing a rain garden, and we’re expanding our vision beyond the Arboretum walls to the sustainability of our entire school (that’s a topic for a future blog post). If you’d like to get involved, please email Principal Dan Rikli at der@oregonsd.net; we’d love to have you. Keep in mind that you can follow us on our Facebook page, too.

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