Thanks to the dedication and hard work of Caledonia Middle/High School 2023 graduate, Noah Stigeler, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officially recognized Sprague Woods in Caledonia, Minn., as an official school forest on Wednesday, May 31.
As a senior last year, Stigeler enrolled in the Growth, Mindset, and Leadership course taught by high school social studies teacher Robbie Sobczak. The course entailed students getting into small groups to conduct a community outreach project. Stigeler and his group decided to focus their attention on turning Sprague Woods into a school forest/outdoor classroom to give others the opportunity to learn about outdoor space.
Sobczak stated 12 students had been enrolled in the course with students dividing into groups of four for their community outreach project. Stigeler spent the entire semester invested in this project. Sobczak stated Stigeler both scheduled and presented this project to the Caledonia Area Public School Board, Caledonia City Council, Caledonia Lions Club, Brownsville Lions Club and
the Rotary Club. Stigeler took it a step further and took the lead in drafting a legal document, a Joint Powers Agreement. Sobczak noted if Stigeler had not taken the steps he did, this project would not have happened.
Stigeler may be done with high school, but his involvement with Sprague Woods continues to this day. He orchestrates monthly meetings in regards to the Sprague Woods Committee which includes teachers, community members and forester Valarie Greene. Sobczak proudly stated, “You can’t find many recently graduated individuals who would do that.”
Stigeler stated Sprague Woods to be a blank canvas right now. The area offers a nice central clearing that will be flattened to include nine picnic tables. The picnic tables will be made by the school’s shop students. Once the picnic tables are included in the space, the space will look more like an outdoor classroom. The school forest will soon include identification tags for trees and bird/bat houses.
The week of September 11-15 was dubbed “School Forest Week” where teachers and students visited the school forest and took part in the outdoor learning process.
Since the kickoff of School Forest Week, Sobczak has taken all students in both his civics and economics classes down to Sprague Woods. While students visited their new school forest, they got the opportunity to participate in fun planned outdoor activities. Sobczak acknowledged, “We can’t underestimate the value of time in green space.” Sobczak’s students enjoyed their time outdoors and want to visit the school forest again real soon.
Caledonia Middle/High School science teacher, Daniel Winkler brought his students down to visit their new school forest during School Forest Week. In addition, Winkler utilized the school forest to host a moth event that took place Saturday,
September 16 that brought students and the community together.
Winkler teaches Earth and Environmental Science to the entire freshman class. The week of September 11-15, students worked on a unit that consisted of population and estimates. That week, Winkler decided to incorporate nature with both the unit students worked on and his planned upcoming moth event. Winkler had his students prepare a mixture of rotten bananas, brown sugar and applesauce, and in turn paint the mixture onto trees found at Sprague Woods. This is a technique entomologists use to attract moths where hungry moths will be attracted to the scent the mixture produces. Afterwords, data was collected on moth populations.
Winkler’s moth event that weekend brought together a group that consisted of two eighth graders, a few freshman, one parent, and paraprofessionals. The group circled the woods twice to view the mixture “traps” and discovered the traps caught not only moths but also tree crickets, beetles, spiders, and many ants. Winkler commented how the group got very much into the event and spent two hours outdoors at Sprague Woods that evening.
Winkler plans to utilize the school forest more during the course of the school year. He is looking into having forester Greene visit as a guest speaker sometime during spring as she has held presentations for children before. In the spring students will do a unit on resources which would be an ideal time for Greene to be there as her visit would entail speaking about resources found at Sprague Woods. Winkler also hopes to visit the school forest again so his students can collect soil samples to analyze the pH and mineral content.
Winkler stated, “I just hope that people can get out there and enjoy it, whether students or the community.”
Commute time continues to impact the amount of time available for students to spend at Sprague Woods during school hours as Caledonia Middle/High School is a 10-minute walk to and from the woods. Sobczac hopes that in the future possible transportation options may be available or class time extended.
One of Stigeler’s many goals is to incorporate the elementary school and the community with the new school forest. Stigeler stated, “It was quite the project. I’m really glad I’ve been able to keep in touch with this project. I’ve learned a lot from it. I’m glad I was in Robbie’s class!” To this day, Stigeler continues to play an active involvement with Sprague Woods.