Walls won’t be a constant when fifth-graders attend a nature school planned for Columbia Public Schools. The students will be able to explore the outdoors and learn about wildlife and conservation on several hundred acres in Boone County.

The location is being kept under wraps while negotiations continue, Jonathan Sessions, vice president of the Columbia School Board, said, and the timeline depends on securing full funding. Once the negotiations are complete, the location will be made public. But it’s going to happen, both Sessions and district science coordinator Mike Szydlowski said.

“They will be out there hiking, they’ll be doing archery, canoeing, outdoor survival skills, outdoor cooking, things like that,” Szydlowski said.

The nature school is resulting from a partnership between the district and the Missouri Department of Conservation. The school will include a four-room school house with additional meeting spaces.

Columbia fifth-graders as well as those from other Boone County districts will be able to spend 10 days participating in indoor and outdoor problem-solving activities, Szydlowski said.

Through its project-based approach, the nature school is intended to teach students lessons and concepts that will resonate more broadly.

“The whole reason that this is better is they’re not just going to be learning a random fact that sometimes happens when we silo these different subjects,” Szydlowski said. “They’re going to be learning them all in the context of a more meaningful way.”

Sessions said students will gain the benefits of a traditional learning experience, but “in a way that, hopefully, some day they look back and not even realize we taught them.”

A similar idea for a nature school stalled in 2014. The program was intended to work like a magnet school and allow 80 to 100 fifth-graders to spend a year at the specialized school.

“It boiled down to state funding,” Sessions said.

The revival of the nature school program has generated much excitement.

“We have teachers and staff that want to work out there already,” Szydlowski said. “We’re way far away from that, but I just think the kids and parents and teachers are going to love it.”

Because of its many moving parts, the program is “still in the development stage,” Sessions said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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