School in the Woods makes young naturalists feel at home in the unknown

Digital Now

COLORADO SPRINGS — Face masks and small cohorts are the new normal for young naturalists at School in the Woods, but this choice program for 4th graders in Academy School District 20 is different.  

“You’re not like in an old school where you’re just in a classroom all day and you’re just stuck in there,” said eight-year-old Haven Spanagel, a naturalist, also known as a student, at School in the Woods. 

For School in the Woods, being outside is an integral part of the day.

“Students could just go outside for something as simple as reading on their own, or finishing a math problem, or it could be an entire lesson that was as extensive as a five, 10 minute hike away from the building, and then doing an activity or a lesson out in the woods or what we would say, ‘in the field'” said Megan Selke, a teacher at School in the Woods.

“I didn’t expect it to be like, really this unique, because I didn’t realize we were going to go hiking in the middle of the day, and well, it’s just been really fun for me,” Spanagel said. 

“We get to see lots of nature and see lots of deers,” said nine-year-old Xavier Martinez, another naturalist at School in the Woods.  

While the school’s 78 students normally rotate between teachers throughout the day, they’re now divided, in accordance with El Paso County Public Health’s COVID-19 guidelines.

 “We actually have the students assigned to one teacher. So, they actually have kind of like a homeroom teacher who is their teacher throughout the day. And that way, we can kind of keep the cohorts together like that,” said Jon Wuerth, an administrator for School in the Woods. 

The school says pre-pandemic, groups were as large as 26 students.

Now, the numbers are down to as few as 19 students per cohort.

“I don’t like it that much because I made tons of friends here and I kind of want to be with them in the next room, and I don’t want to have to wear a sweaty mask,” Spanagel said. 

“We don’t have desks, but this is kind of my station, my section, my supplies. We’re not doing as much traditional sharing,” Selke said. 

Weaving the unnatural in the natural world around them.

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