Rural Schools Collaborative had the honor of visiting Adam Gould, Director of Severson Learning Center, on his home turf in Cambridge, Wisconsin. With the fall colors on full display and a sunny, blue sky, it is no mystery why this corner of the world is a local treasure.
Severson Learning Center is an 80 acre farm that was donated to the Cambridge community by Oscar Severson. It is utilized by both the public and the Cambridge School District for educational field trips.
Adam was one of RSC's 2021 Celia B. Godsil Grants In Place fellows, and received funding to plant a native prairie used for educational trips and curriculum.
In early-November, RSC hosted a small VIP tour of Adam's great work, inviting local donors, RSC supporters, and environmental advocates for a tour and good-old-fashioned barn boxed lunches.
Adam shared that the prairie has already been utilized by kids of all ages - from the earlier grades learning about shapes and colors through the plants, to the older grades learning about lawn alternatives and the native ecosystem.
Severson Learning Center: Grants In Place Celebration Tour
Cambridge is also a perfect example of place-based learning models in schools; Koshkonong Trails School, a place-based school in Teton Science School's Place Network, also sits on the Severson property. Koshkonong Trails is a project-based, tuition-free, public school serving 7th - 12th grade students that focuses on the environment and agriculture.
KTS's learning environment and culture are unique; Students are learning at their own level and self-identifying their struggle points. The curriculum is highly interdisciplinary and student-driven, so learners are able to plan projects they are interested in. For example, creating the KTS Land Acknowledgement was a practice in combining place, language, and social studies among other topics, which led students to learn more about the First Peoples of Wisconsin.
We were able to visit with Laura Emrick, one of the KTS teachers, about their place-based approach. She noted “Students care for this land and the people who come together on it - they are able to disagree without intense conflict. Earned trust is really an intentional part of our culture.”
While the Koshkonong Trails School is only a few years old, they already have a waiting list for students to be admitted. And that's no surprise when you hear rave reviews from the students. One junior, Ada, says, "KT gives me the freedom to learn in a way that works best for me, and I learn better if I’m passionate about something.
Day-to-day I do a lot of research projects, and soon I hope to teach chemistry to the middle school students."
“KT gives me the freedom to learn in a way that works best for me, and I learn better if I’m passionate about something. Day-to-day I do a lot of research projects, and soon I hope to teach chemistry to the middle school students”
Kesley Nelson, another KTS teacher, came to the school after teaching at a larger school in Madison, WI. “My first impression of KT was Mr. Gould introducing me to the goats, and I thought that anywhere that starts with goats has to be good.”
Mrs. Nelson says she notices how students love the opportunity to take ownership of their learning through the project process, versus a traditional classroom setting. She sees her role as helping them build the inquiry process that’s best suited to their needs and environment.
Overall, KTS and SLC are a fabulous example of place-based education thriving in a rural community. We wouldn't expect anything less from the fine folks in our Driftless Hub, and we can't wait to visit again soon!