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

Map of the Boone County Nature School.
Boone County Nature School
Map of the Boone County Nature School.


A proposal to spend millions of coronavirus recovery dollars for a "nature school" in Columbia will come before the Columbia Board of Education on Monday.

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

The meeting takes place at 6:45 p.m. in the Columbia Public Schools administration building, 1818 W. Worley St.

CPS would be awarded $250,000 of ARPA funds.

The nature school idea started in 2013 between CPS and the Missouri Department of Conservation. The initial plans were based on Springfield Public Schools WOLF School, a partnership with Bass Pro. The plans never came to fruition.

In 2019, Sara Parker Pauley, director of the Missouri Department of Conservation, approached former CPS Superintendent Peter Stiepleman to see if they could try again to build the nature school. They agreed to approach the school differently and find a way to make the school available to every child in Boone County.

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

The goal for the nature school is to reach over 20,000 students annually from all six Boone County school districts including public, private, parochial and home-school programs, and to serve as an asset for all Boone County communities for community gatherings, adult education classes and county-wide partnership use.

The $4.5 million project has several partners. The Missouri Department of Conservation donated 200 acres of its property adjacent to Three Creeks Conservation Area for the nature school and $1 million. CPS has allocated $2 million. The remained of the funds needed for the project will be raised 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 education displays, and sustainable design features to conserve water and energy.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on children and the schools of Boone County. The Boone County Nature School will work to provide experiences to any child in the county, especially children that have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic.

Studies show nature benefits children's health and mental health.

"Nature also reduces stress levels and enhances social interactions among children. These benefits also translate to adults," Andrés R. Edwards wrote for Yes magazine. "In adults, studies show that being in nature will speed the health recovery process, reduce blood pressure, and lower the risk of cancer as well as lift people's spirits."

The district has already moved forward with the construction of Phase 1 of the project.

With the first phase complete, field trips for approximately 7,000 Boone County students have taken place in the 2021-2022 school year.

A groundbreaking ceremony took place in October.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Leila Mitchell

Leila is a Penn State graduate who started with KMIZ in March 2021. She studied journalism and criminal justice in college.


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