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School in the Woods teaches students about plants and wildlife

The 4th grade program is for "naturalists" who spend their year learning in and about nature.

BLACK FOREST, Colo. — School in the Woods was created in 1999 by two science teachers from Colorado Springs who were looking for a new way to teach science.  

The school is part of the Academy 20 School District, and this year they moved into a new 14,000 square foot building on 10 acres of forest land owned by the Colorado Land Board.

“We felt like it was very important for students to get to know about the natural world,” said school administrator Jon Wuerth. “A big part of School in the Woods is helping the students learn about the plants and animals that live here on this 640-acres of a montane forest ecosystem.”

Credit: Byron Reed

Wuerth co-founded School in the Woods with Carol Stansfield. 

Currently, the school has 78 enrolled 4th graders called "naturalists” who spend the school year learning in and about nature.

“(On the land) we have animals like mule deer, elk, fox, coyote, and porcupine,” Wuerth said. “We felt like 4th graders were going to be old enough to have that sense of independence that we need especially when we’re outdoors.”

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Credit: Byron Reed

"You get to stay active, “said 4th grader Chelsea Ogden. “You get to experience other things that maybe your other school didn’t do.”

Each school day, the naturalists start off with a meaningfulness walk around the property. Wuerth said the walks are about a quarter of a mile and usually take 10 minutes. He felt it was important to give students time to be just in their own heads and minds. 

“We saw what was happening with children and technology and the bombardment of information and stimulus to the brain,” he said. “So, the opportunity to do this mindfulness walk is really a calming experience for them and when they come into this school, they’re really more calm and ready to engage into some meaningful learning.”

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Credit: Byron Reed

According to the school, they teach a science integrated curriculum with other traditional classes like reading and science to get the naturalists prepared academically.  

“We have different math and reading teachers, like middle school instead of just having one teacher for all the subjects,” said 4th grader Tommy Conlin. 

Credit: Byron Reed

Each student is given a daily job, like meteorologist and cooking. Their goal is to make them lifelong learners of nature and responsibility. 

“I think it is going to be helping me when I get back to my old school,” said 4th grader Annya Winsor “Because I’m going to have so much knowledge just from insects, mammals and so many things…and when we do science, I’m going to be like Einstein.” 

Wuerth hopes these young naturalists will appreciate the quietness of their surroundings while studying the environment in nature’s classroom.

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Credit: Byron Reed

“It’s about creating a school where people can be responsible and understand the impact of their decisions and to look at a world as a place where kindness is of utmost importance.”

For more information about School in the Woods, click or tap here

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