Columbia Board of Education to discuss coronavirus relief funds for nature school


A proposal to spend millions of coronavirus recovery dollars on a “nature school” in Colombia will be presented to the Columbia Board of Education on Monday.

The board will hear an update Monday on Boone County Nature School’s plans and the administration’s application for approval for funds from the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, established under the American Rescue Plan Act.

The meeting is at 6:45 p.m. in the Columbia Public Schools Administration Building, 1818 W. Worley St.

CPS would receive $250,000 in ARPA funds.

The idea for the nature school began in 2013 between CPS and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Initial plans were based on Springfield Public Schools WOLF School, a partnership with Bass Pro. The plans never materialized.

In 2019 Sara Parker Pauley, director of the Missouri Department of Conservation, reached out to former CPS Superintendent Peter Stiepleman to see if they could try building the nature school again. They agreed to approach school differently and find a way to make school accessible to all children in Boone County.

The “plant-based” nature school supports the belief that learning should not be confined to the four walls of a classroom. Nature’s School will provide educational opportunities for children in six Boone County school districts – Columbia, Centralia, Hallsville, Harrisburg, Southern Boone and Sturgeon.

Nature School’s goal is to reach more than 20,000 students in Boone County’s six school districts each year, including public, private, parochial, and homeschool programs, and to serve as an asset for all communities in Boone County for community gatherings, adult education classes, and the use of countywide partnerships.

The $4.5 million project has several partners. The Missouri Department of Conservation donated 200 acres of its property adjacent to the Three Creeks Conservation Area for the Nature School and $1 million. The CPS has allocated $2 million. The rest of the funds needed for the project will come from community support. The district has already raised $780,000.

The nature school will include a school building, four classrooms and a wet lab, a lobby with educational exhibits, and sustainable design elements to save water and energy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on children and schools in Boone County. Boone County Nature School will work to provide experiences for all children in the county, especially children who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Studies show that nature is beneficial for the health and mental health of children.

“Nature also reduces stress levels and improves social interactions among children. These benefits also trickle down to adults,” Andrés R. Edwards wrote for Yes magazine. “In adults, studies show that being in nature will speed up the process of health recovery, lower blood pressure and lower the risk of cancer, all while lifting people’s spirits.”

The district has already advanced in the construction of phase 1 of the project.

With the first phase complete, field trips for approximately 7,000 Boone County students took place during the 2021-22 school year.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held in October.

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