Rockford School Board annexes additional school forest land

Students have been engaging the original Rockford school forest for years — now they will be getting accustomed to a new, more ecologically diverse section. Sam Rhodes, left, and Maddie Haas explore the original forest.

The Rockford Area School Board voted to approve an expansion of the Rockford School Forest.

Sponsored by the DNR, a registered school forest’s only requirements are: 1) that it is accessible to students (either by bus or on foot), and 2) have trees.

At the previous meeting, Rockford instructors Jamie Madson and Polly Trandahl joked that really all that was needed to get a school forest designation was a single tree.

Rockford Schools already had a DNR-approved school forest near Rockford Elementary School-Center for Environmental Studies and the high school, but the two instructors proposed to add another segment of land neighboring it. The current forest had been met with quite a bit of success; student work had greatly diminished the overwhelming amount of buckthorn, and the first round of plantings were slotted for May 1.

However, the addition of the adjacent land would provide greater educational opportunities for the classes that used them, Madson said. It would put the total acreage of the School Forest to 18, and its marshy wetland areas would bring some much-needed diversity to the program.

According to the DNR, a School Forest “is an outdoor classroom where teachers and students explore the natural world as a means to teach core subjects such as math, science, reading, writing, geography, physical education, the arts, and others.”

A Bemidji State professor is credited with lobbying for creating the concept of the School Forest, and a law authorizing public education institutions to establish and maintain school forests was passed in Minnesota in 1949. Sixty-eight years later, the program is alive and well largely thanks to volunteers, teachers, and staff who begin forests at their respective schools.

After the proposal at the March meeting, members of the Board appeared in support of the annexation of the land, which was technically already owned by the school but not designated as part of the school forest.

Discussion continued at the recent meeting. Superintendent Paul Durand quelled concerns that there would be issues such as tax implications and later difficulties selling the land if the Board decided to approve the addition. “In this case,” Durand said, “there are no negatives, only positives for us.”

The Board voted unanimously to expand the forest.

TESTING

In other news, the Board heard from the Director of Teaching and Learning, Peter Grimm, about the testing activities set to begin April through the beginning of May. MCA Testing in reading, math, science, and biology will begin for various grade levels, ending May 5.

He also reported that the ACT practice test, a relatively new and cheap program used to prepare students for the real test, has been a very useful tool to the district. Costing the District a few hundred dollars a year, the practice test gives freshman and sophomores a chance to try the test in a “low-stakes” environment. Proctors keep the test casual, telling students to “not expect to get a 30 in ninth grade.”

Results are given in a score range (for example, 25-27), but its real advantage is preparedness; the practice test allows for students to be familiar with the real ACT the first time they take it.

The practice test was administered to high school freshmen and sophomores April 19, coinciding with the day juniors took the real ACT.

CORCORAN LEASE

The lease of district-owned lands to the City of Corcoran was also approved.

The Board had initially been considering other options for the land, located on County Road 50 in Corcoran.

Superintendent Durand and Board Chair Chuck Tryon had forged a new lease agreement with Corcoran city officials in late March, and with Board approval, the lease will become active after it bears both the Corcoran Mayor’s and City Administrator’s signatures.

Tryon mentioned that the school-provided porta-johns on the property will no longer be needed per the agreement, saving District 883 another $1,000.