GALENA, Ohio (WCMH) – Some students in Ohio’s largest school district will spend summer school communing with nature.
20 miles north of downtown, Columbus City Schools is leveraging a 50-acre nature preserve as a learning tool for the “Summer Experience” program. The 6-week program is designed to help students recoup learning and other skills lost during remote and hybrid learning over the past year.
“Our kids have a lot of screen time anyway and this last year was even more so. And it’s just time to get back to nature,” said Geri Granger, the programming coordinator at Spruce Run Environmental Education Center.
Spruce Run sits on 50 acres in southern Delaware County, near the Hoover Reservoir. The land was deeded to Columbus City Schools by owners Robert and Dorothy Patton in 1974. A decade later, the district added an environmental studies center and in 2010 a grant enabled it to revitalize the entire nature preserve.
Dana Reynolds, the Pattons’ grandson, now regularly volunteers and helps maintain the property.
“It may have gone even beyond their expectations,” said Reynolds, noting growing partnerships with the Ohio Nature Conservancy, Columbus Zoo and others.
CCS typically uses the land for field trips and learning opportunities during the school year. For the first time, the district will be offering extensive summer programming there for students.
“It just does the soul good,” said Janet Love, the administrator on site for Spruce Run. “Kids can come up here and see things and hear things and touch things and smell things they’ve never done before and gain a new appreciation for the world we live in.”
Love explained all summer programming is tied to CCS academic standards. Students can receive credit for subjects ranging from physical education to science and language arts.
“In the high school setting, they’re addressing standards per those curriculums,” she said. ”In middle school, while ‘Hatchet’ is being read, they’re getting reading standards and writing standards, but they’re doing it in nature.”
Ahmyia Scott, a rising 7th grade student at Woodward Park Middle School, said her teachers encouraged her to sign up for the summer experience to get back on track after a difficult year of remote learning.
Wednesday, Scott was traipsing through brush on a high ridge to build a shelter akin to one the character in the book “Hatchet” used to survive after a plane crash.
“My nana signed me up for the Survival Camp because she thought it’d be good for me to survive in the woods because I kind of hate bugs a little bit,” she laughed.
Three days into the Summer Experience program, Scott was discovering she actually enjoyed being outdoors.
“You step out of your comfort zone and stuff like that,” she said.
Like Scott, many CCS students have limited opportunities to spend time immersed in nature. Staff said bringing them to Spruce Run opens up a new world to them and allows them to decompress from the stress of the city.
“Even on your worst day, coming out and just taking a big deep breath is very refreshing,” Granger said.
She said Spruce Run expects to welcome 150-200 students each day during the 6-week Summer Experience program. She hopes to see programming expand in future years.