Holland board approves plan to transition to nature-based elementary at Holland Heights

·3 min read

HOLLAND — Holland Heights Elementary will officially be transitioned into a nature-focused school in the coming years.

The Holland school board voted 6-0 in favor of moving forward on a partnership with the Outdoor Discovery Center during a special meeting Monday, March 28.

Holland Heights Elementary will become a nature-based elementary school, beginning with kindergarten and first grade in the 2022-23 school year.
Holland Heights Elementary will become a nature-based elementary school, beginning with kindergarten and first grade in the 2022-23 school year.

A pilot of the nature-focused school will be implemented beginning with the 2022-23 school year. Kindergarten and first grade students will be involved in the first year, with second and third grades transitioning in the 2023-24 school year and fourth and fifth grades in the 2024-25 school year.

More: Holland Public could decide on nature-based elementary school this month

More: Holland Public Schools, Outdoor Discovery Center exploring elementary school partnership

Bob Wandell, ODC Education Network manager, was on hand to answer questions Monday. He noted ODC’s goal is not to change curriculum, but to enhance it with new learning environments and opportunities.

“We are not in the mindset of changing curriculum,” Wandell said. “Our mission with this project is to look at how different organizations can partner together to enhance successful and implemented curriculum programs and initiatives.

“Our role will be to help teachers provide richer and more engaging context as a way to build on the rich and engaging things that are already happening at Holland Heights. Our goal is to provide access to meaningful learning experiences in neighborhoods throughout West Michigan where kids are furthest from access.”

An aerial view of the nature play scape at Little Hawks Discovery Preschool, also run by the Outdoor Discovery Center.
An aerial view of the nature play scape at Little Hawks Discovery Preschool, also run by the Outdoor Discovery Center.

Earlier this month, board members expressed a desire to have more feedback from parents and families in the Holland Heights neighborhood. Kevin Derr, principal at Holland Heights, shared he did so, and received positive feedback.

“All the discussions that I had were very positive,” Derr told the board Monday. “A lot were excited about a different opportunity, a different learning environment for their kids. It was a lot of excitement, just kind of wondering when things will start, when we’ll put things in place. How it will roll out.”

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A “gear plan” will be developed to ensure all students have access to the clothing needed for extended outdoor learning, Wandell said.

Implementation of nature-based learning at Holland Heights will span three years, with two grade levels being added during each of the next three school years.
Implementation of nature-based learning at Holland Heights will span three years, with two grade levels being added during each of the next three school years.

Professional development and learning opportunities for teachers that will be involved in the program at Holland Heights will be throughout the summer. The ODC will use its existing summer programs as opportunities to provide some of that learning.

Although an official budget for the project has not yet been determined — Wandell said that will be developed soon — the idea is for the transition to a nature-focused school to be “minimally revenue-neutral” for HPS.

Wandell said the ODC Network has several existing partners in the community that have a history of supporting ODC projects. Although he was hesitant to name specific partners ahead of approval, he assured the board that they “have a plan to be able to help support” the school.

Children play on the new play equipment during the opening of the Sally Smoly Nature Playscape Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, at the Window on the Waterfront in Holland. The park made with natural materials, was funded through community donations and the Outdoor Discovery Center.
Children play on the new play equipment during the opening of the Sally Smoly Nature Playscape Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, at the Window on the Waterfront in Holland. The park made with natural materials, was funded through community donations and the Outdoor Discovery Center.

Any facility changes that might be necessitated by the move can be worked into the district’s upcoming bond work. Holland Heights is scheduled for a partial reconstruction as part of the voter-approved 2021 bond.

This work is scheduled as part of Series 2 of the bond work, with funds becoming available in July 2023.

“If this was coming at a different time, that would be a pretty significant concern,” Superintendent Nick Cassidy said of building adjustments. “But right now, with (the bond) coming forward, there could be adjustments made to address those needs.”

— Contact reporter Mitchell Boatman at mboatman@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @SentinelMitch.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Holland board approves plan for nature-based school at Holland Heights