Academy District 20 (ASD20) celebrated the new permanent home for the School in the Woods (SITW) with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, April 26, 2019.
“After 20 years, it’s like a dream come true, it’s like the cherry on top,” said Jonathan Wuerth, coordinator, SITW. “We’ve created real impact not just for our students, but also their families and community. It warms my heart Academy District 20 invested in our program.”
Built with funds from the 2016 Bond Measure, the $3.8 million, 9,820-square foot building replaces smaller, portable classrooms located in temporary trailers. For years, students didn’t have access to flexible workspaces for collaborative projects, squeezing into smaller spaces or working on the floor.
The new building alleviates the challenges of learning in small portables. Unique features include a new, centrally located Curiosity Center and Learning Stairs allowing students to engage, interact and connect. In the Learning Labs, southern exposure windows give students the feeling of being outside by providing ample natural light indoors.
The SITW’s new, low-profile building blends into the natural forest and bolsters the school’s sustainable roots by using recycled furniture, green appliances, low-flow toilets and an exterior material created from a fire-resistant plank product. Additional sustainable features include LED lights with motion sensors and solar panels that power parts of the campus.
“As a one-of-a-kind program, I couldn’t be more proud that the SITW is part of Academy District 20,” said Dr. Mark Hatchell, superintendent, ASD20. “All five of my kids went to the SITW and still talk about how much they loved being in the forest. The district is excited about new opportunities the building creates for future generations to explore and grow while developing a deep appreciation for the natural world.”
Jonathan Wuerth, along with Carol Stansfield, two ASD20 teachers, dreamed of a “living classroom.” In November 1998, the Board of Education (BOE) approved the concept. After moving two portable classrooms onto the Black Forest site in 1999, the SITW opened its doors to 52 fourth grade students that fall. Since then, more than 1,300 students have explored and learned about nature on the 640-acre property.