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Highlights About Our School Forests

Students receiving instructions during a buckthron pullJulia Battern's students learned that just because a forest is green, it doesn't mean that the forest is healthy.

In the case of the Mankato East High School Forest, invasive European buckthorn provided the unhealthy shade of green in the understory. Late October is the best time to identify buckthorn trees and shrubs because their leaves remain dark green long after native trees have lost their leaves. Connecting her students' labor and interest with the school forest's management plan, Ms. Battern created the outdoor project, which opened students' eyes to why invasive species are so damaging to native ecosystems. Students learned that their actions—removing lots of buckthorn trees and treating the stumps—can help improve a forest's health. The students are also replanting the site with native goldenrod, wild ginger, and hickory trees. The classes were grateful to Randy Schindle, DNR private lands specialist, who helped lead students in their efforts and provided guidance on the restoration project. (Story paraphrased from the Mankato Free Press.)


Virginia School ForestStudents learn the history of camping and survival.

Fifth graders at Virginia School Forest are learning the history of their area and practicing real-world skills thanks to the hard work of many individuals and organizations. Throughout the year they explore an original homestead in the forest, watch a re-enactor demonstrate camping and survival techniques in the 1700s, and investigate an adjacent logging camp to learn about 1890s forest industry. In addition, the students study and participate in survival activities and practice setting up camps in the School Forest. School Forest coordinator Chris Holmes says that camp skills are a fun way for students to practice organization and team building. Student teams organize, pack, set-up camp, cook, clean, pack-up, and put away gear, all in a day. Their new practice campsite was created and installed by Virginia High School students, Virginia teachers, and volunteers from ArcelorMittal Steel and was made possible through donations and grant dollars.

North Woods School Forest in Cook CountyThe North Woods School in Cook designated over 83 acres in June (50 acres owned by Field Township and 33.75 acres of school-owned land).

Students, teacher Rick Pierce, and township chair Keith Aho brought the community together to create the Field/North Woods School Forest. Using this experience, students created an action project for the Youth Energy Summit YES! program and received 1st place in their region! The award included grant money to build and install an ADA-compliant bridge for better hiking and cross country skiing access. This year students will study soils to determine the best area for a campsite and outhouse. Future plans also include trail development, solar lighting, and Ojibwa and English interpretive signs. Through their partnership the school and township hope to increase both education and recreation opportunities to surrounding schools and the community.

images showing after the fire and 3 weeks laterWildfire provides valuable lessons
Dry winds, coupled with seven acres of dried grasses and dormant trees, fueled an unexpected fire at the Oneka School Forest in Hugo. Because the School Forest is located about 100 feet from the school's back door, students could watch while safely inside and see how crews from local fire departments and the DNR worked to contain the fire. After the fire, teachers capitalized on the experience, teaching students about fire, succession, and regrowth. For example some students are tracking plants and growth in different areas around the school. Others are using math to measure how high the fire went on trees. A group of fifth graders that went birding the day before and are now comparing pre- and post-fire wildlife observations. They're also discovering pieces of burned trash and using identification skills to figure out what it was before it melted. The best part is that both teachers and students now appreciate how fire affects an ecosystem and can watch how quickly nature grows back from the ashes.