The Minnesota School Forest Program provides a valuable natural resource education experience. The school forest criteria exist to ensure lands are used in a manner consistent with program goals and educational activities are supported appropriately. These criteria identify the responsibilities of the DNR and the school.
Benefits and DNR Responsibilities
The DNR values the knowledge students gain from experiencing outdoor education activities. The DNR provides the following benefits to support and promote school participation in outdoor and natural resource activities.
- School Forest Staff—Program staff support sites in a variety of ways, such as curriculum development, DNR programs connections, committee support, site visits, support on legal issues, and grant writing, etc.
- Support mailings—Mailings are sent to site coordinators two to three times each school year. Each mailing contains information to support and expand activities in school forests.
- Educational materials—The School Forest Program is run in conjunction with Project Learning Tree and all other forestry education programs, providing sites special access to forestry education resources and development of specific school forest materials.
- E-newsletter—DNR emails a monthly e-newsletter to site coordinators during the school year with information on grants, time-sensitive development opportunities, training opportunities, news, and activities.
- Grant opportunities—The staff works to find grant funding or partner support relevant to school forests.
- Workshops—DNR offers free, site-specific workshops that focus on outdoor teaching and classroom management, the benefits of outdoor learning, and other natural resource topics.
- Conference—At least every other year, the program offers a free conference or summit to bring together site coordinators, teachers, and administrators from across the state to learn about new program happenings, discuss current issues and needs, and explore educational opportunities. The conferences are free and substitute teacher stipends are typically provided.
- Activity Board & Website—The School Forest Program website and specialized coordinator's section provide program materials. The activity board is home to hundreds of outdoor lessons that teachers use statewide at school forest sites.
- Tree Cookies & Field Desks—Program staff coordinate with DNR volunteers to deliver free classroom sets of tree cookies and field desks to interested school forests.
- Foresters—DNR foresters are available to help schools identify, plan, and implement school forest activities.
- Stewardship Plans—A forester will work with each site to write a school forest stewardship plan free of charge. A copy of each site's current stewardship plan is kept at the DNR School Forest Program office.
- Other DNR Support—DNR Wildlife, Ecological Resources, and other staff provide support for special projects.
The Minnesota School Forest Program seeks schools that are interested in a long-term commitment to natural resource and outdoor education. Participation from multiple teachers, administrators, parents, and community members is vital to a site's success. To help ensure a lasting, beneficial school forest site effort, school must meet the following criteria:
- Educational Activities—Schools must complete at least five school forest related educational activities every year. These can include lessons conducted by the school, after school programs, or community partners (e.g. scouts, youth groups).
- Annual Report—The site coordinator must submit a report to the Minnesota School Forest Program manager by June 30 each year.
- Committee and Site Coordinator—A school forest committee must guide the development and use of the site. Each site must also designate a site coordinator to be the main contact and guide the work of the committee and site activities. Please review the site coordinator and committee expectations.
- Distribute Materials—The site coordinator must distribute information from the school forest e-newsletter and other materials to school staff.
- Funding—Schools must provide sufficient funding to support site activities, including transportation, site maintenance, and teaching supplies. If necessary, schools will create a plan for revenue generated from the site.
- Land Management—Schools will follow their stewardship or management plan to ensure sustainable forest management and the continuation of education activities. If harvesting occurs, the school will follow Minnesota Forest Resources Council timber harvesting guidelines.
- Tax-forfeited Land—Any site consisting of tax-forfeited land will use the land only as an outdoor classroom.
- Land Ownership—Any site not owned by the school must have a written agreement for the land partnership between the school and the landowner indicating the conditions of use and designating the site as a School Forest.
If school responsibilities are not met, the school forest staff and local DNR foresters will work with site coordinators to identify and agree upon a plan and time line to bring the site into compliance.
If a site is unable or unwilling to follow the criteria, it will lose program benefits and certification in the School Forest Program. If a noncompliant school is on tax-forfeited land, the appropriate state and county authorities will be notified of the site’s removal from the program. Reconveyance of land will be handled between the site/school and county.
Site leaders can address comments or concerns to School Forest Program staff. If the DNR does not comply with the above criteria, site leaders can appeal to the state forester or the DNR commissioner.