The lower level of the Cedric A. Vig Outdoor Classroom (CAVOC) will soon be used for more than storage, thanks to a $25,000 donation from Hal Berndt and his family.
Members of the School District of Rhinelander's operations and strategic planning committee voted Monday to accept the donation and authorize the creation of the classroom.
Director of instruction Teri Maney explained that the family would like to see the donation used to create a new active learning center named after Lu Berndt, who was an elementary school teacher in the district for 23 years until her retirement in 1989.
"She was very hands-on and had a real love of the environment," Maney said, adding that the new center would be in the little-used lower level of the Rominsky Lodge at CAVOC.
"Basically, it is an empty classroom," Maney said. "There are some mounts there and some haphazard furniture, but it has just been underutilized."
She said the space is a finished classroom that also includes a storage area and the mechanical room containing the furnace, circuit breakers and hot water heater for the building.
"We're looking at having not only the classroom, but also a' behind the glass' museum type of effect so that the older mounts and the traps that we really don't want on the wall but are part of Wisconsin's history (are protected). Some people feel very passionate about talking about that, so it will be used in different ways," Maney said.
A small team of teachers are already working on writing the curriculum, she added. The plan is to have the lesson plans change with the seasons and it will be set up so teachers can just bring their classes into the space and not have to worry about preparing anything ahead of time. The activities will be aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards and the Environmental Educational Standards and will be designed to enhance student connection with the forest and the environment.
"The plan is that teachers can walk in there and the students are hands-on, they (teachers) aren't planning or trying to create the lessons or having to do additional work," she said. "They are bringing the kids into a totally different learning environment and they can get right to it."
She said the district is ready to start on the physical work of finishing the space, which requires the acceptance of the donation by the full school board and signing of the naming rights contract.
"Then we will purchase the few materials that we need," Maney said. "We have found that we have a lot of the materials already in district that have been pushed here and they're in storage because it just hasn't had a place to live. For instance, our microscopes that are older microscopes are better than you can buy right now on the market. But we would set up a lab area so that the kids are really scientists looking in those microscopes looking at water pollution and stuff of that nature."
In addition to the microscopes, other components of the classroom will include materials compatible with the Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) curriculum. Another area would allow for more traditional construction paper and clay activities.
Maney noted the district will not need the full $25,000 to get the classroom up and running.
"Right now we are hoping that we would be able to keep that (extra money) for further development," she said. "Right now we're looking to spend between $7,000-8,000 for furniture and additional materials."
She said the group planning the classroom already has a lot of the materials needed to do the work.
"We have the glass, we have the volunteers," she said. "We a pretty thrifty staff of volunteers, they can make it happen."
Maney called this a "fortunate" opportunity where there are friends of the school forest who are willing to support CAVOC.
"We have a very tight budget to keep it going, this just opens a lot of doors for potential opportunities," she said.
The focus of the classroom will be the elementary level but over time the classroom will likely be used by students in all grade levels, she added.
Maney said any leftover money would be tied to future enhancements to either the classroom or CAVOC as a whole.
The committee voted unanimously to accept the donation and naming rights request and forward it to the school board for final approval.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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