March 18, 2014 — Krueger Middle School in Michigan City, Ind. recently earned a national honor for being the only school in the state with a special science center for learning — where students are using some real grit during their class lessons.
At Krueger Middle School in Michigan City, it is not unusual to dress down for Amanda Maycroft’s 6th grade Environmental Science class.
She encourages her students to get their nose out of a book, and into a sometimes-smelly subject.
The school created the Krueger Outdoor Environmental Science Center three years ago to connect students to the surrounding one hundred acres of wooded land.
This year, the magna awards, a national recognition from the American School Board Journal, took notice.
Krueger is one of five schools earning honorable mentions nationwide for their innovative programming.
“That is something that is very unique to the state of Indiana,” says principal Vera Jones. “We are the only middle school that has a true environmental science center. We know, and what I have told the kids is if it is worth learning, it is worth doing by hand. So we know that our kids learn better when they actually get to go out and do.”
With the school grounds boasting a restored prairie area and two nature trails, Maycroft says the best place to learn about the environment is in that very space.
“When students are learning about different ecosystems usually they’re learning about tropical rainforests and deserts,” she says. “They don’t actually get to go out and interact with those things. They get to learn about them from afar. They feel very disconnected from their environment. Here, when we’re learning about our ecosystems you see, we go out and we touch and we smell and sometimes taste. We are out and in it.”
On this particular day, the sixth grade class is exploring wetlands they are working to restore.
“We got to see the wetlands that are in our ecosystems. We got to see how it works,” says student Dawson Bane.
Jones says the school secured funding this month to restore two wetland areas, and will break ground on a dunes area in June.
Educators at Krueger say it is not unusual for students to be out of the classroom two, maybe three times a day. Educators say the spike in time outdoors has meant a rise in performance in the classroom.”
“The difference in our kids since we’ve started this is huge,” Jones says. “We’ve cut our discipline in the building by 50 percent; we’ve raised test scores by 40 percent. We went from 30 percent of our students passing, and now, we are in the 70th percentile of our students passing. And I truly believe it’s because they own their learning now and they understand the importance of doing.”
The students’ efforts are to the community’s benefit. Jones says the wetlands the 6th graders trudge through now will soon be open to the public.
“There will be a floating boardwalk that runs through the wetlands, so people can go through and learn about our wetlands without destroying them,” she says.
“I think it’s something really special when you can get kids at the middle school age when some of them are still starting to become disenchanted from elementary school and they’re starting to become too adult to take learning in that serious way,” Maycroft says of her students. “The kids here, since they take such ownership of their learning, it helps it come alive to them.”
One 6th grade student echoes her teacher’s thoughts.
“I think a lot of kids should come to Krueger to learn more about the environment and how to take care of it,” says Nana Wade.”If we go and do not take care of our environment, the world will not be here.”
It seems the result of a somewhat muddy education is a mental grit to boot.
By: Hilary Powell