Mansfield’s Discovery School is not your typical school. Classes can get pretty wild – but in a good way.
The school at 855 Millsboro Road offers a different learning experience for young students.
On Earth Day, April 22, Discovery School was designated a Wilderness School Site by the Ohio Division of Natural Resources Wildlife Department. It was the fourth site in Richland County and the 198th in the state to receive this title.
“We had to go through an application process in order to be recognized as a wild school site,” said the school’s deputy principal, Simon Clark.
He thanked Julie Schwartz, the school principal, for coordinating all of the projects completing the application process.
“It involved a lot of projects that we did at school, including cleaning up our vernal pool that we have in the woods. We have a patch of milkweed, where butterflies and monarchs go, and we embrace diversity local wildlife, so milkweed is a great source.We also put a bat box in the playground.
Individualized approach to learning
Discovery School was founded in 1975 by Margaret Black and Shirley Heck, with the school slated for its 50th anniversary in 2025.
“They wanted a different school and an individualized approach to learning, and including opportunities to explore nature more than traditional public school,” Clark said.
Discovery students participate in wildlife activities ranging from nature observation and cleaning vernal pools to hiking and identifying plants and animals, setting up butterfly gardens and bat boxes. mouse and much more. Students also learn outdoor skills such as building shelters and can participate in archery.
“We believe in an inquiry-based approach to the structure of learning,” Clark said. “There is a great opportunity for the students to get out into the 40 acres of woods around the school. They will have recess there and they love it. But it gives them the opportunity to observe nature, the diversity of trees, plants and animals.
Students attending the school range from kindergarten (3-4 years old) to sixth grade. Hours depend on the student’s grade level. The preschool learning center starts at 8:30 am. If it’s half a day, they end at 11:30 a.m. and for a full day, they end at 3:30 p.m. For students in kindergarten through sixth grade, their hours are 8:20 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.
Clark says a typical day for K-6 students includes:
- Build relationships with teachers and peers;
- Morning work and development of good habits;
- Mathematics, using textbooks and different manipulatives like cubes/squares to help solve difficult problems and concepts;
- Snack in class or outside depending on the weather
- After English/Language Arts, sixth graders have book studies. Kindergarten students work on CVS (consonant-vowel-consonant) words to help them master reading and writing;
- Students work collaboratively. Example: Reading a peer’s work;
- Lunch/recess time;
- Kindergarten Social Studies/Science which includes the study of natural habitats.
More than a wildlife school
The Discovery School is truly more than a wildlife school, as students engage in activities such as discussing the treatment of minorities, body imagery, and pop culture. Interestingly, students do not receive traditional letter grades either.
“We give grades for effort and participation,” Clark said. “We recognize the journey as well as the destination. Report cards are meant to give parents insight into their child’s progress and strengths.”
The most important aspect he wants students to take away from their time at Discovery School are the 10 attributes of the IB (International Baccalaureate) learning profile. The IB learning profile is a broad range of human abilities and responsibilities that go beyond academic achievement and aim to engage in helping all members of the school community learn to respect themselves, respect others and the world around them.
The 10 attributes are Seeker, Open-Minded, Knowledgeable, Caring, Thinker, Risk-Taker, Communicator, Balanced, Principled, and Thoughtful.
“These are 10 attributes we want students, teachers, parents and administrators to develop,” Clark said. “These are attributes that will help students grow into civic-minded and internationally aware citizens.”
Overall, Clark says he wants Discovery Wildlife School to be seen as a valuable entity in the Mansfield area. “I think it’s important for us to be noticed. Since we’re surrounded by woods, people forget we’re a school and we’re here,” Clark said. “We hope having the Wild School as a designation will answer any questions people have about us. We hope we can help them understand our values, what we find important and the opportunities we seek to offer to our students.