A different kind of school
by Hunter Paulson-Smith
There is a very special place located next to the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley. It is a place where students are prepared with real world skills through an interdisciplinary curriculum. It is a place where teachers encourage students to get involved in their communities. It is a place where I never know what to expect. It is a place called the School of Environmental Studies, and over the past two years of attendance, I have come to consider it my second home.
SES is an optional high school connected with the Minnesota Zoo offered to School District 196 students during their junior and senior years.
SES has prepared me with real world skills such as public speaking and teamwork. Particularly during senior year at SES, a significant portion of the curriculum is dedicated to exposing students to public speaking.
A few months ago, as a part of the population unit, we were assigned a project in which we had to present a world issue relating to population. We could choose to complete one out of a few presentation styles, including a poster board exhibit, a featured speaker and a 15-minute speech in the school auditorium.
I was selected to be a featured speaker, and I gave my speech on world hunger and unequal distribution of food. In the process of preparing and giving my speech, I gained much confidence in myself as a researcher and speaker that I couldn’t have gained from a textbook. At SES, we are not taught by example. Rather, we are taught through our own experiences.
A lot of the work assigned at SES is group work. As in real professions, working in groups helps students learn communication and balance between not participating and taking over the entire project.
One of the first projects students do as juniors at SES is called Pond Profile. In this project, groups travel to a local pond and collect data regarding water quality, aquatic animal species and vegetation in and around the pond. Each person has roles and responsibilities to fulfill regarding the final product, which is a lengthy technical paper about the health of the group’s pond. This project, along with many other assignments in the SES curriculum, helps students excel in communication and leadership skills.
Another large part of the school’s mission statement includes involvement in the community. After teachers prepare us with practical skills, we are encouraged to “take to the streets,” if you will, and put what we’ve learned into action. All seniors complete a senior project toward the end of the year that requires them to get out in the community and attempt to make a difference in a big way.
In 2007, a 175-foot wind turbine was built at SES as a senior project. The turbine provides electricity for the city grid, giving back to the community, as well as leading by example in alternative energy sources.
Other students from SES attended the Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009 and then Cancun, Mexico, in 2010. The SES teachers and curriculum allow and encourage students to get involved beyond the walls of the school.
Although SES is not a school for everyone, if you’re interested in the environment, want a more hands-on approach to learning, or value community involvement as a part of academic learning, you should consider this alternative school. Attending SES for the past two years has helped me grow as a student and leader as well as prepared me for college and beyond.
Hunter Paulson-Smith is a Thisweek Newspapers intern who attends the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley.