Partnerships open up opportunities form middle school students

Rockford Middle School-Center for Environmental Studies (RMS-CES) has developed multiple partnerships with environmentally based businesses and organizations to provide relevant, authentic, and engaging learning experiences for students.

Ryan Barth from Baker Near Wilderness Settlement helps Whitney Lange with her ice fishing equipment. (Photos by Beth Russell.)

Ryan Barth from Baker Near Wilderness Settlement helps Whitney Lange with her ice fishing equipment. (Photos by Beth Russell.)

These partnerships have expanded over the last two years, and the middle school now partners with seven different organizations providing wonderful opportunities for middle school students to work with, and learn from, professionals in the field who are dedicated to science, technology, engineering, and math concepts.

The idea for partnerships initiated with our middle school’s connection to Deep Portage Conservation Reserve in Hackensack, Minnesota. Sixth grade students have been attending their outdoor classroom overnight experience for fifteen years. The campus provides environmental and outdoor learning opportunities such as orienteering, canoeing, wolf studies, Minnesota history, tree and plant identification, and team building. This connection had such a positive impact on students’ involvement and connection to our school that other partnerships were explored and created.

Mike Billington from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center showcases an owl to a seventh grade class.

Mike Billington from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center showcases an owl to a seventh grade class.

Many of our partnerships include field experiences and travel to different locations, although some organizations travel to our school to work with students. Three Rivers Park District is an organization where students receive multiple experiences throughout their middle school career. Each grade level visits the park three times during the year, once each season. Activities at the park are connected to grade level standards, and teachers reinforce lessons in the classroom related to the day’s outdoor lessons. One example of this happening is in sixth grade, where Minnesota history is part of the social studies standards; activities at Baker Park include building snow shelters, learning about the Big Woods, and identifying edible plants. Students have developed background knowledge prior to attending these experiences, which makes the day’s activities come alive.

RMS-CES seventh grade students explore a year’s connection to the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, which includes a visit to the lab and clinic in St. Paul and three school visits from an interpretive naturalist. Students have the opportunity to get up close and personal with many of Minnesota’s beautiful raptors, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, saw whet owls, and red tailed hawks. Seventh grade teachers have worked with the University to develop lesson plans and units centered on data collected by the Raptor Center; classroom standards such as ecology, government and policies, graphing and interpreting data, and technical writing all come together, centered around authentic experiences and information.

Students at RMS-CES have the opportunity to work with many school partners as they visit our site; experts in Wright County History and professionals in environmental fields all provide engaging and relevant experiences for middle school students. Landscape Restorations visited classrooms to teach students about identifying and removing invasive species; their staff then led classrooms on buckthorn removal expeditions in our community. The Ames-Florida Stork House has provided lessons and curriculum based on the oldest house in our town; students then became docents and led tours during the holiday open house. Wright County Soil and Water Conservation District presented information about watersheds, storm water runoff, and protecting our lakes and rivers; students then assisted in creating a 1,000 plant rain garden on our school property to help collect runoff from the roof of our building.

Partnerships with organizations and businesses are the cornerstone of Rockford Middle School-Center for Environmental Studies. These authentic learning experiences offer students the opportunity to be involved, work with experts, and make connections outside of the school building.

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