Superintendent News

This column is intended to address some of the recent news in the community regarding the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center (PWLC) and the future of the Prairie Science Class (PSC). 

Last November, the PSC program was recognized as a 2023 Innovation Program recipient by the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA). The prestigious award is presented to only two programs statewide each year. Our four Prairie Science Class teachers: Mona Davis, Tia Thysell, Deb Strege and Becky Greenagel were present at the awards banquet to be honored and were congratulated by Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Willie Jett and MREA Executive Director Bob Indihar. 

The Prairie Science Class is a unique partnership between Fergus Falls Public Schools and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Threads also run through the City of Fergus Falls, Friends of the Prairie and Lakes Country Service Cooperative. The land is owned by the federal government.  The buildings are owned by the city of Fergus Falls.  The four classrooms used by the Fergus Falls Public School District were built using monies from the state of Minnesota and the greenhouse was donated.

 

Staffing has been a partnership between the Fergus Falls Public School District and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. District #544 commits four classroom teachers and paraprofessional support for instruction. We also devote staff to clean the spaces that we use for programming. U.S. Fish and Wildlife has supplied the naturalists who support our program as well as student visits to the PWLC from other school districts. They also employ the maintenance staff for the buildings and grounds and administrative oversight for the facility. 

Staffing support from U.S. Fish and Wildlife has been steadily decreasing. It was recently communicated to the school district that U.S. Fish and Wildlife has not had increases to its budget dating back several years. As such, when employees retire or otherwise leave their positions, they are not being replaced. That said, we have received reassurance that keeping PWLC open for service remains a priority. There have been no conversations centered around closing the facility. They are committed to finding ways to meet the educational commitments to the school district and are actively seeking solutions. It is important to note that the PSC continues to move forward. We are blessed with highly skilled and passionate teachers that believe strongly in the work that is taking place. 

What is the future of the Prairie Science Class? There is every reason to believe that it will continue to be a highly engaging, hands-on experiential program for our students emphasizing environmental education. Will it look different? Probably. Currently, there is strong advocacy taking place to shift additional federal resources to the PWLC to support the naturalist positions. It is too early to tell if the advocacy efforts will be effective at the federal level. However, that isn’t the only avenue that can be pursued. It is possible that funding could be secured through the state of Minnesota. Grants represent another opportunity as well as expanded partnerships within our community and beyond. 

The mission of the program remains vitally important - developing knowledge and understanding of our environment and becoming conscientious stewards of our beautiful planet. The program also provides students with tools to manage the day-to-day stress and strain of life. It’s an essential skill for children as they travel through a world that is increasingly complicated. 

"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time” – John Lubbock. 

There is something rejuvenating in our connection to nature and I consider it to be an essential component to our well-being. Ultimately, I have no doubt that the program will continue to flourish under the same type of coordinated efforts that brought the program to life in the first place - passionate people with a vision. We are extremely proud of the program and look forward to its continued success.