Building a Home in the Heart of Outdoor Learning

In Minnesota, Waubun-Ogema-White Earth (WOWE) Schools is expanding its outdoor classroom facilities for students and families
Nov 21, 2022 11:20 AM ET
a group of students on benches outdoors in a wooded area, looking at open books.

What’s better than plotting graphs in a classroom? Plotting graphs in nature—and it’s even better when you’re observing the growth and changes of your own personal tree for a school year.

At Waubun-Ogema-White Earth Schools (WOWE Schools), located in northwestern Minnesota, the organization’s School Forest programming offers outdoor learning experiences in the form of school-day, after-school and summer field trip and community-based programs for students and families.

While recreational programming, such as skiing and snowshoeing, has been offered for a few decades, recent investments have enabled WOWE Schools to add to its facilities and enhance the learning offering for students.

“We’re only a year into the program but we know it’s making a large impact,” says Lisa Weber, superintendent of WOWE Schools. “It all comes back to hands-on learning—parents come to us and say that they used to argue with their kids to go to school, but now they can’t wait to get out to the forest program.”

Weber also points to research from neighboring schools and institutions that has found children who attended outdoor schools, on average, increased their test scores by 27% and are generally more engaged.

“The students are excited to learn,” she says.

WOWE Schools recently announced the addition of a central pavilion to the outdoor classroom, as well as a storage facility and two bathrooms. The new facilities will have a profound educational impact and transform the outdoor learning experience.

Cedar signs will mark the entrance of the pavilion and state the facility’s name in Ojibwe—a nod to the vast majority (84% this year) of Indigenous students who attend WOWE Schools, and will soon be celebrating National Native American Heritage Month.

“The storage facility was badly needed because we used to have a volunteer that lived right next door and we would have to store our equipment there,” says Weber. “But as our programming is getting bigger, we need somewhere bigger to store everything.”

Enbridge recently made a $150,000 Fueling Futures donation to Waubun-Ogema-White Earth School District as part of our commitment to help build vibrant and sustainable communities. The funding is being used to help build these latest facilities.

Though the pavilion won’t be completed until spring of 2023, it already has a name: The Gathering Place.

“The Gathering Place is going to be just that—a meeting point for everyone,” says Weber. “No matter what type of program kids are coming out here for, the pavilion will pull it all together and work in tandem with the entire program.”

Being in the business of education, seamless programming is of utmost importance.

“When you have someone who is excited about learning and looking forward to their day, they’re going to grasp that content and learn so much more.”