The Clay Central-Everly School District is in the process of constructing a preschool playground and nature learning center, which will serve educational and recreational needs of children ages preschool through sixth grade.
The first community work day at the site is scheduled today. Volunteers have already worked to scrape the area, install electrical outlets and water lines, and create a cement tricycle path.
The community and student population are being asked for support in the form of volunteer labor, donations of perennial plants and natural objects, as well as financial contributions.
The CC-E Board of Education has committed up to $30,000 of capital projects funds for completion of this project. This money is paid to the school district monthly from the penny sales tax designated by the 2008 Iowa Legislature for projects of this nature. It is separate from the district's general fund.
Fundraising for this project has been underway since April, and approximately $5,500 has already been raised by the grade school students who sold cookie dough. Grant money from various sources is being sought out and applied for.
A fundraiser is planned for the evening of Thursday, July 19, in Spencer. The Spencer Fareway Store has agreed to assist the CC-E School District by preparing and serving grilled ribeye steak sandwiches, chips, and beverages, which will be for sale in conjunction with that evening's Mainstreet Market. The Clay County Cattlemen will be grilling the steaks from 5-8 p.m.
A landscape architect and educator from Nature Explore visited the CC-E district in May to assess district needs, suggest a proposed site, consult with school staff and preschool advisory committee members on the potential benefits of an outdoor classroom, and prepare a provisional design.
Concept plans for the nature learning center include 12 distinct activity areas with a central open green space. In providing for a mix of activities, children with a variety of needs and learning styles are engaged. By keeping areas separated, behavioral issues are reduced. More components or enhancements can be added to each area later, but space for all recommended areas will be created at this time.
Paul Stadsvold from Spencer, an experienced builder of wooden playground equipment, has been enlisted to build a sand table, stage, climbing platforms, sorting table, art easels, bridge, store and a water table.
Specific requirements for the preschool playground have been issued by the Iowa Department of Education, and must be in place by September. Rather than simply constructing the minimum components required, the preschool advisory committee suggested a wiser use of district financial resources would be to incorporate the preschool playground into a 10,000 square foot nature learning center that will be located beside the existing playground area at the Royal site.
Community access to the nature learning center will be available and encouraged. The culture of childhood that played outside is gone and a child's everyday life has shifted indoors, sitting in front of a television or playing video games. Two problematic issues arise from this trend: Children miss out on crucial physical activity and nature-related learning that develops observation and problem-solving skills, science and math abilities, imagination, creativity, and a sense of wonder that is the basis for lifelong learning; and children fail to make personal connections that instill appreciation and understanding of the natural world -- both necessary to creating the next generation of tree planters and environmental stewards.
Nature Learning Center Steering Committee members include Superintendent Dennis McClain, Rebecca Goeken, Denice Schoelerman, Peggy Hofbauer, Sue Brugman, Lynn Cronk and Betsy Schoelerman.
Anyone wishing to make a donation can mail it to either of the Clay Central-Everly School building locations. Please designate "nature learning center donation" on the memo line of your check. All donations are tax deductible, as the school is a non-profit entity. Financial contributions are welcome anytime, but will be most useful if received by Aug.1.
The Nature Explore Program is a joint effort of Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation in collaboration with many other organizations committed to re-connecting children with nature.