COLUMBIA – A new educational opportunity for students across Boone County is coming to the community soon. 

A ribbon cutting ceremony will take place Thursday at 5 p.m. to celebrate the preparation for construction on the Boone County Nature School. Once completed, the school will be the first of its kind in the state. 

The school is a project headed by a partnership between Columbia Public Schools and the Missouri Department of Conservation. 

Peter Stiepleman, the school’s capital campaign manager, said it will give students a balanced learning environment. 

“Thinking about just the overall health and nutrition for kids to be out in nature to balance technology, as well as have a safe place to be outdoors,” Stiepleman said. 

Construction on the school itself will begin in April. It’s expected to be completed by 2024. 

Rendering of the Boone County Nature School

The Boone County Nature School will be located at 8871 South Tom Bass Road in Columbia.

Mike Szydlowski, the science coordinator for CPS, said the school is meant to expose students to the environment they live in. 

“If students do not get to experience their place, they won’t love their place and they won’t take care of their place,” Szydlowski said. 

Szydlowski said the school will aim to teach students more than just science. 

“It’s not to make them all scientists. It’s to make them better community members,” Szydlowski said. 

When it’s completed, day trips to the school will be implemented in CPS fifth grade curriculum. 

CPS fifth grade students will spend seven full school days at the Boone County Nature School throughout the school year. They will visit four days in the first semester and three days in the second semester. In between each semester, students will work on community projects to improve the area around their home school.

“It could be an environmental project, it could be a people project, a history project,” Szydlowski said. “Just something to enhance the community.” 

The school will also be available to all students in Boone County outside of CPS. From kindergarten to college, students of all ages will be able to use the property. Each school year, it expects to serve:

  • 20,000 students annually
  • 2,200 fifth grade students in a seven-day classroom experience
  • 1,500 middle school students to camp
  • 16,000 students across Boone County taking one-day field trips

Szydlowski said the curriculum will give students the chance to explore the outdoors by doing activities hiking, canoeing and fishing.

The school's property consists of 200 acres of land, donated by former Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Hank Waters, and his wife, associate publisher Vicki Russell. It will serve as an addition to Three Creeks Conservation area.

Szydlowski said it will also give students the opportunity to learn about local history. 

“We want them to learn about their place and the people who lived in that land in the past. So it’s not just about science,” Szydlowski said. “They’re learning about what makes Columbia, Columbia.”

The school will have its own staff, but fifth grade teachers will be trained to teach their students themselves. Szydlowski said the school will also have a program for teachers to get place-based training. It will train teachers how to teach outside a traditional classroom environment.

“We want to be that hub,” Szydlowski said. “We will invite teachers from anywhere and everywhere in the country, world to come out for our training in the summer.”

The vision for the school is vast and diverse, but Stiepleman said its main goal is to nurture the growth of students. 

“How do we contribute to the overall health and well-being of all of our kids in our county?” Stiepleman said. “That’s what this Boone County Nature School will do.”

More information, resources and ways to contribute to the school can be found on the Boone County Nature School’s website

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