Monday, June 18, 2012

Janesville Schools Outdoor Laboratory - Janesville's Hidden Educational Treasure

Janesville is fortunate that over 40 years ago, community leaders set aside a natural wooded area west of town as a conservancy specifically designed as an outdoor learning area for students.   That original 40 acre tract was named Janesville Schools Outdoor Laboratory (JSOL).  It was started as a dream by Robert O. Cook - former Adams Elementary School Principal. The dream turned into reality with help by the City of Janesville and the Janesville Noon Lions Club.  That tract, which is a registered School Forest owned by the City of Janesville, has grown to over 160 acres since 1969.  In 2011 a new partner, the Ice Age Trail coalition joined this unique partnership with volunteers connecting the trail at City 14 and Riverside Golf Course through an easement provided by the Hendricks family to JSOL.  That enabled the Ice Age Trail to connect seamlessly to Highway A and Austin Road as the trail heads west.  We are proud to support this level of collaboration in the community.
Many of the features of JSOL lend themselves to hands on science activities for students.  During the summer, two of our creative high school teachers host students in a summer school courses titled Survival Science.  Neal Boys and David Hintz created this four week summer course modeled after the popular Survivor TV show.
Survival Science was developed for students entering grades 6 – 9.  One of the main goals of this course is to get the students outdoors to experience and appreciate all that it holds.  While the students are introduced to JSOL, they will learn about the Science behind several different survival skills.  This four week class is divided into five major themes.  These include: water, food, fire, navigation and shelter. Each section incorporates several hands-on activities which demonstrate and teach each theme.
Students learn the importance of water by constructing rain collectors, solar stills and transpiration collectors.
Food is critical, therefore students identify many different plants and trees.  Teachers will point out plants that are edible, plants that are poisonous and plants that have medicinal uses.
Students are taught the different methods to start a small controlled campfire.  With a focus on safety, staff teaches the proper method to construct and start the fire and what safety precautions must be taken from starting a fire to the point of it being completely cool.
As the students learn the importance of water, heat, and food they also build a shelter just like the TV show.  Working in teams, each group constructs a natural shelter which will protect their team using natural materials found at the Arboretum.
Finally, students are taught that ONSTAR may work in your Buick but in the woods, navigation using compasses, the stars and a hand held GPS unit can be critical to survival.  During this section, students will be able to demonstrate several different methods for navigating and finding your way in the woods.  They also will use compasses and a GPS unit to complete a Geocaching activity.
The School District of Janesville is proud of partnerships that span generations of students and staff supported by our community.  Please take a walk on the trails of this hidden treasure west of Janesville.  It is our natural investment in our community and it should be enjoyed by everyone.

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