Crosslake Community School was recently accepted into the Minnesota School Forest Program. Through this program, Crosslake Community School (CCS) is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to dedicate nearly four acres of forest for outdoor education activities.

Minnesota School Forest sites are designed to increase outdoor education, connecting students to the natural world, while building student knowledge, confidence, sense of community and skill level.

“Our mission is to grow environmentally literate, community-impacting learners of excellence,” CCS Executive Director Cliff Skagen said. “We need to prepare today’s students for the green-based workforce of 2050 and the Crosslake Community School Forest is one of many initiatives taking place.”

The School Forest is located east of the school on land owned by the Lake Foundation, which leases the property to CCS.

Miranda Graceffa, CCS middle school science teacher, with the support of the school’s Environmental Education Committee, spearheaded the school forest application process. She said the program is a perfect fit for both the school’s environmental focus and the physical surroundings.

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“The Minnesota School Forest program has a solid reputation for providing educators with resources and professional development that enables hands-on learning in meaningful, real-world situations; helps students develop life-long critical thinking; sparks young people’s innate interest in the natural world; and increases physical activity, creativity, self-esteem and motivation,” Graceffa said.

She added that the CCS School Forest can build community among students, families and community members.

“Our School Forest will also create an environmentally literate population who feel connected to nature and will hopefully make sound, long-term community decisions in the future,” Graceffa said.

According to the Minnesota DNR, the first School Forest was designated in 1950 in Blackduck, Minn. Currently more than 145 School Forests range in size from less than an acre to 300 acres of land, and are in both rural and urban locations.

After learning that it would receive the School Forest designation, CCS held a celebration for the students in November before the school went into full Distance Learning mode due to Covid-19. To help prepare for the celebration, students created posters about the CCS Forest stating what they loved about it. Students from each class also wrote their names on a ribbon and then tied the classroom ribbons to trees in the School Forest.