Jones Co. Conservation partners with School of the Wild

Sixth-grade students from Sacred Heart learn all about outdoor survival skills, one of several topics covered at School of the Wild at Central Park last week. Sacred Heart teachers Lynette Boheman and Kristen Schlueter led the session. Monticello and Anamosa students took part in the University of Iowa pilot program. (Photo by Kim Brooks)

Jordyn Stoll, a fifth-grader at Sacred Heart, shows off her creative and innovative shelter she made as part of learning outdoor survival skills. (Photo submitted)

Sacred Heart fifth-grader Jackson Saunders leafs through a book about the different types of birds during a School of the Wild session at Central Park. (Photo by Kim Brooks)

Cooper Ehrisman, a fifth-grader at Sacred Heart, catches the first fish of the day, a largemouth bass. This was the first time he ever held a fish. (Photo submitted)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     “To awaken an awareness of the wildlife and natural ecosystems in our area, develop an appreciation of the natural world, and encourage a balanced environmental ethic and caretaker attitude concerning the earth.”

     That is the mission of the University of Iowa School of the Wild.

     In 1991, UI started offering day camps for elementary school children to compliment the environmental education they received in school. The camps were so well received that UI expanded them into a full week.

     In 2000, UI’s School of the Wild became the first accredited environmental school in Iowa. It is now offered for a full week in both the fall and spring, and for two days in the winter.

     Each year, over 1,200 students participate in School of the Wild, and last week, fifth- and sixth-grade students from Sacred Heart in Monticello and St. Patrick School in Anamosa also took part.

     “Students attending School of the Wild have a unique opportunity to explore the outdoor setting with small groups and experienced naturalists and teachers.”

     This was the first year Jones County Conservation offered School of the Wild locally at Central Park. Students were bused to the park daily from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

     “School of the Wild is a wonderful opportunity for all of Iowa’s students,” praised Jones County Naturalist Michele Olson. “We are one of the pilot county programs in the state. School of the Wild eventually hopes to be available to schools in every county.”

     The grades and teachers involved choose which curriculum topics they want their students to learn.

     “Curriculum can be correlated to the Iowa Core and New Gen Standards,” offered Olson. “Teachers develop their own lesson plan for the section they will be teaching, just as they would develop daily lesson plans for in-class teaching at school.”

     The topics covered this first year were:

     • Bird Study

     • Outdoor Skills

     • Insect Study

     Some of the unique activities offered included:

     • Prehistoric counting games

     • Communication through pictographs

     • Canoeing

     • Fishing

     • Orienteering

     • Bird banding

     “Almost every part of the day was spent outside from arrival to departure,” Olson said.

     School of the Wild is not something Conservation can pull off on its own, even with additional help from local schools. Conservation was able to get help from AmeriCorps Naturalist Intern Diana Reuber, as well as School of the Wild staff from UI.

     “We have special training opportunities for them and UI offers a CEU credit for teachers who take a summer credit class in correlation to the School of the Wild program,” explained Olson.

     UI’s School of the Wild received a REAP grant to help cover the costs of the pilot programs this fall. Due to COVID-19, the public schools were declined to participate due to larger numbers of students. Olson hopes the grant is extended into the spring of 2021 for those students to have the same experience.

     “In addition, we have some environmental education funding in our Conservation budget annually for field trips and programming,” noted Olson. “The Friends of Jones County Conservation assist with funding when needed for educational programming, too.” Olson said they always accept donations as well for such unique educational opportunities.

     “An extra benefit this year is to get the kids outside during this COVID crisis,” added Olson. “Open air is better than a confined classrooms situation.”

     Conservation saw this inaugural School of the Wild in Jones County as a huge success, despite some setbacks.

     “When asked what their favorite part of the week was (the students) chorused a wide range of answers from all of the activities throughout the week,” Olson shared. “Several students voiced their wish to have every school day outside.”

     You can find out more about all of the activities Jones County Conservation offers by visiting their website:


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