The Weyauwega-Fremont School District is working to revitalize and expand its school forest program.
Its School Forest Committee members are developing a plan to enhance its current 20-acre school forest, as well as acreage at Maasch Park, Gills Landing, the County Forest and the Fremont School Forest to facilitate and improve outdoor education at all grade levels.
The current plan includes acquiring funds and developing curriculum for environmental education experiences at all grade levels.
In 2005, a group of teachers started the process of revitalizing “Our Backyard.”
The goal was to continue developing the Backyard and to write curriculum so K-12 teachers could use it to teach Common Core Standards and environmental science.
In 2010, the W-F School Board approved the establishment of the Backyard Committee.
The committee developed a school forest plan through a Wisconsin Environmental Education Board Grant and is continuing the development of Common Core Standards and Environmental Science Core Standards.
The idea of school forests is not a new one.
The late Dean Russell, of the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture, introduced the idea to Wisconsin after a visit to Australia, where he saw school children plant trees on public tracts of land as part of an educational project.
He thought it could be put to practical use in his home state.
Legislation, passed in 1935, mandated conservation education be taught in all high schools, vocational schools and universities or colleges.
School forests provided outdoor classrooms for this type of education.
In 1949, school forests gained another boost when Wisconsin statutes involving school forests were revised.
Schools became eligible to receive free planting stock from state forest nurseries and to use the services of foresters for forest management plans.
School districts acquired land in a variety of ways.
Some purchased property, while others received land as donations or gained tracts of land after taking title to tax delinquent land deeded by counties.
In 1969, the Union High School (Weyauwega-Fremont School District) designated 20 acres behind the high school as school forest property.
Lowell Baltz and Wendell Hillskotter, science and agriculture teachers respectively at the time, were involved the project.
A school forest is designated as land a city, village, town or school district acquires and then engages in forestry, appropriating funds to do so.
The benefits of having a school forest include:
• Receiving free forest management assistance from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ foresters,
• Obtaining free seedlings from the DNR’s nurseries for planting in the school forest.
• Applying for WEEB school forest grants.
• Receiving assistance from Gretchen Marshall, the Wisconsin Outdoor Forestry Education specialist.
Environmental education increases knowledge and awareness about the environment.
It encourages inquiry and investigation and enables the learner to develop critical thinking, problem solving and effective decision-making skills.
Environmental education also enables individuals to weigh various sides of an environmental issue.
It does not advocate a particular viewpoint or course of action.
Committee members for W-F’s WEEB grant were Lynn Ponto, Sandra Dykes, Rich Tomaszewski and Nick Winn.
Community members interested in being involved in the program may contact them at the high school.