The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has awarded Owatonna's McKinley STEAM School a grant to construct outdoor teaching areas in the Willow Creek Nature Area. District STEAM Education Coordinator Thomas Meagher says, "Teachers have been adding more and more lessons in the outdoors every year...outdoor education is a critical part of instruction at each of the different grade levels."

The DNR's mini-grant of $4,560 comes through their "No Child Left Inside" program. The initiative came about through the 2019 Minnesota legislative session after recent research indicated to the DNR that students are becoming disconnected from nature.

DNR Information Officer Dan Ruiter indicates, "Getting more people into the outdoors is crucial for the future stewardship of Minnesota's natural resources. Time spent outdoors is good for you. There's the benefit of exercise, but also physiological benefits. Improved mood, lower blood pressure, good for overall mental health."

Meagher says the "Willow Creek Nature Area is school district property that has been managed for prairie, wetland/pond, coniferous forest and deciduous forest. These are native habitats for Minnesota that kids get to learn about that's right in the backyard of the school."

The submitted photos with this posting are from Earth Day 2019 when voluteers from Daikin taught students about environmental stewardship and helped clean up trails from storms from fall of 2018.

The project submission to the DNR stated, "The area is used frequently for outdoor education for all grades K-5, however trails are not maintained, there's limited teaching areas with student seating and no interpretive signage."

The grant will fund construction of two sheltered outdoor seated learning areas and will add interpretive signage along the trail to identify plants, wildlife, and biomes withing the WCNA. "This project will increase opportunities for kids to learn outside and the signs will help teach everyone about the native plants and animals found in the WCNA," added Meagher.

Teachers have gone through training sessions with Jeffers Foundation for Environmental Education, Project Learning Tree, and Project Wild through the Minnesota DNR, according to Meagher.

"No Child Left Inside" focuses on youth and maximizing the number of participants that will benefit. It is designed for community-focused, ongoing projects rather than one-time events, while looking to benefit new and innovative ideas, according to information provided by Ruiter.

submitted photo