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Education news and issues in the Ozarks.

Some SPS Fourth Graders to Begin Pilot Program at Camp Wakonda

Camp Wakonda
Ozarks Regional YMCA

In a partnership with the Ozarks Regional YMCA, fourth graders from eight Springfield Public Schools are getting a chance to expand their curriculum in an outdoor setting.

Beginning in September, students from Bissett, Bowerman, Boyd, Watkins, Weaver, Westport, Williams and York elementary schools will visit YMCA's Camp Wakonda in Ash Grove to partake in project-based learning experiences.

These schools were chosen in support of the city’s Zone Blitz initiative, which aims to improve the quality of life in northwest Springfield.

Dr. Ben Hackenwerth, executive director of Innovation and Information for Springfield Public Schools, said they chose fourth graders because it fit the curriculum and standards for that grade level best.

“We knew we wouldn’t be able to impact all of our schools through the course of the pilot,” Hackenwerth said. “So we thought this would be a good starting point; we could impact those 450-500 students that go to school in the northwest quadrant.”

The six-week pilot program is currently designed to take the students on four trips to the camp throughout the fall. The goal is for students to learn life skills, develop friendships, boost their self-esteem and get access to opportunities in an outdoor setting that otherwise wouldn’t be available in the classroom.

Hackenwerth, who served on the YMCA board for over eight years, said that SPS and the YMCA have had a long-standing relationship through afterschool and summer programs. He said this is the next step in expanding the partnership.

“This being a pilot, we knew that we wanted to start small enough that we could manage the pilot, learn from it, and hopefully go to a much larger scale down the road,” he said.

The trips to Camp Wakonda will be unlike the traditional field trip where students visit a place once in conclusion of a lesson. These trips are designed as an ongoing learning experience that starts in the classroom.

Camp Wakonda has an archery range, sports fields, mini farm, lake, campfire, climbing wall and zip-line, among other things.

Hackenwerth said the program was made possible through revenue created from Explore over the summer, as well as an operation fund already in place for the district.