Kickapoo Valley Reserve and La Farge School District Partner to Open Innovative New Kickapoo Valley Forest School
Photo caption (from left to right): Jonel Kiesau, Education Director Kickapoo Valley Reserve; Brad Steinmetz, KVR Friend and local donor; Marcy West, former KVR Executive Director; Jay and Carolyn Scott, Trustees of Prairie Springs: The Paul Fleckenstein Trust; Scott Walter, KVR Executive Director; Julie Hoel, KRMB member, KVFS Governance Council member and local donor; Scott Lind, KRMB member and volunteer building project coordinator; Steve Carrow building volunteer.
The Kickapoo Valley Reserve has recently expanded education facilities with the addition of the Prairie Spring Classroom, a gift from local donors and Prairie Springs: The Paul Fleckenstein Foundation. The project was made possible through hundreds of hours of volunteer labor. This new classroom space will help serve the growing needs of the KVR Education program and will be rented during the school year by the new Kickapoo Valley Forest School (KVFS) which will be sited on the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.
The Kickapoo Valley Forest school is an innovative new partnership between the La Farge School District and the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. Launched with a $700,000 DPI Charter School grant in June 2020, KVFS is a public charter school, authorized by the La Farge School District, and sited on the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. The mission of the school is to honor outdoor nature immersion, child centered practices and environmental stewardship in our youngest learners. The school will serve students in four-year-old prekindergarten through second grade.
KVFS opens its doors on September 1, 2021 and will serve thirty-two 4K and Kindergarten students in its first year, expanding to first grade in year two and second grade in year three. KVFS seeks to be a model of high-quality, cutting-edge learning at a time when the COVID19 pandemic continues to make learning outside a safe model and in a world where studies show children are suffering from too much time plugged into media devices.
KVFS works with the understanding that extended periods of time in nature are beneficial to children academically, physically and emotionally. KVFS curriculum uses experiences in nature to broaden and develop necessary life skills. For example, building shelters and forts cultivates a child’s cognitive and creative skills of attention, memory, observation, and idea generation. Climbing, carrying logs, and hiking strengthen a child’s physical skills of balance, coordination, and endurance. Learning to problem-solve with peers sharpens social and emotional skills. Offering the child daily opportunities to inquire about fascinating discoveries builds academic and cognitive skills such as inference and observation. Extended time immersed in nature builds personal resilience and a lasting connection to and respect for the natural world.
The Leadership Team of the KVFS will be studying the impact of the place-based forest school curriculum on student outcomes as part of the growing effort across the nation to consider how nature immersion and place-based learning contribute to student achievement and social and emotional learning (SEL).
Rural education faces continual challenges such as limited resources, a constrained tax base, and demographic shifts. The KVFS represents an investment in an innovative direction for the La Farge School District and the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, allowing both public institutions to share resources and collaborate further in shared values of providing education opportunities in the community.