This fall finds us savoring the less tangible fruits of our labors too. The colors, sights and smells of autumn enrich our senses and remind us to be thankful for the natural gifts of Minnesota. We can also be thankful that the Dodge mission to connect folks with their environment continues to resonate with our community and our neighbors in a variety of exciting ways.
We just hosted a very successful annual Dodge Ball at the new Radisson Blu at the Mall of America. I am delighted to report that we harvested quite a bit of "lettuce" for my favorite cause: The Dodge Nature Preschool Scholarship Fund.
Jose Luis Villasenor, community activist and Dodge parent (of no less than three siblings in our Oak Room class!), attendees heard a heartfelt, firsthand account of the impact and rewards of land-based education for the youngest members of our community. This fall, we are also reaping the rewards of sharing our mission with educational partners in our community. Dodge has played host to a number of visitors who have been so impressed by our efforts in and examples of place-based, hands-on, environmental education that they have taken immediate, exciting action that will directly impact even more kids and families in our metro area.
Dodge Nature Preschool this fall, I feel it is important to let them know that their decision to join the Dodge community and to support place-based education is a terrific first step in what will likely be a lifelong, joyous and rewarding relationship with our natural world. My new teaching colleague, Kari Ryg, recently shared her thoughts with parents at our annual Curriculum Night. She said, "I've changed fundamentally as a person since I started working here. Teaching outside, working with kids outside every day, has changed me, who I am and what I think about the world-- for the better." Your choice to visit and enjoy Dodge and to enroll your children in our Nature Preschool makes abstract concepts--nature and education--real and concrete. The people that use Dodge actually make the Nature Center and our School what they are: places to explore the environment, to learn and practice stewardship of that environment and to grow in all ways that a person can, in partnership with the earth. This is vital stuff! What we do here at Dodge every day, not only means something to you who participate in day to day exploration and stewardship, it sets a terrific example and provides a guide for our neighbors. I myself am delighted to crow about the fact that, after visiting Dodge, and seeing how we do what we do, the Lakeville school district has decided to make place-based, hands-on, environmental education the signature of their new STEAM initiative. Dr. Lisa Snyder is now playfully calling the District initiative, "E-STEAM," and you can guess what that E is for.
Dodge Preschool students are. I know that my Dodge Nature Preschool students benefit in all ways--cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically--from an integrated, emergent curriculum that partners with the natural world. So I contacted Lakeville Superintendent, Dr. Snyder, and suggested that our school district might want to think about using our own local, natural resources to deepen and enrich the education of kids and families in Lakeville. I cited Dodge Nature Center as a model for place-based, experiential education and I invited Dr. Snyder to visit us.
Parks and Rec, to use local parks for classes and experiences. They are working with the Jeffers Foundation to train teachers to use their own school sites for environmental curriculum integration, and they are planning a pilot series of environmental field days as early as this spring with the help of none other than our very own Dodge Board member, Chad Dayton, and his ground-breaking, wonderful organization, Wilderness Inquiry.
Area Arts Center, our Senior Center, YMCA Camp Streefland, Community Ed and Parks and Rec-- all in the context of environmental education. So, Way to go, Lakeville! And, Way to go, Dodge! Without the Dodge example, Lakeville might not have emerged as a new regional, public school leader in integrated environmental education.
Community activism actually works. So, I say joyfully to our new Dodge Nature Preschool families, "Your choice matters." What we do here at Dodge, day in and day out, how we connect kids and families with their local environment, it's important and it matters, and it has a big impact on our friends and neighbors.