New Albany-Plain Local officials are applying to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to designate more than 80 acres as a WILD site.
WILD school sites can include any school property "used by students, teachers and the school community as a place to learn about and benefit from wildlife and the environment," according to the ODNR website. "The sites function within the premise that every school, regardless of size and location, can provide outdoor educational opportunities that can and should be part of any integrated education program."
The district campus has a sizable wetlands preserve.
In 2003, the New Albany K-1 building's small nature preserve was chosen as a WILD school site.
First-grade teacher Trish Russell, who applied for the first WILD school site, said the elementary school students now are using other parts of the wetland preserve.
"Our students have so many opportunities throughout the whole 80-acre nature preserve, not only in our K-1 nature park," Russell said. "K-1 elementary students also use the bird observatory, the ponds and trails throughout the whole district."
Sandra Willmore, the district's environmental science coordinator, said students in all grades are using the preserve, which she considers to be one school site because it is tied together naturally.
"It is important to look at the entire preserve as one classroom," Willmore said. "The wetlands, vernal pools and deep-water basins depend on the drainage that comes directly from Swickard Woods, for example."
Willmore said students use different parts of the preserve, depending on the lesson they are learning.
"K-1 classes have used the deep-water basin area, the K-1 woods, Swickard Woods and the duck aviary areas, depending on the lesson's objective," she said. "Middle school students use the Rose Run stream, the Ealy House area and Swickard Woods on a regular basis."
Bill Resch, the district's environmental consultant, said "the nature preserve has dramatically increased as an extension of every classroom, kindergarten through 12th grade.
"The K-1 children's nature park under the leadership of Trish Russell set the standard for all other grade levels during the recent past," Resch said. "Our children and youth have experienced the wonders of nature as a natural habitat of learning and they want to continue to do so in their later grades.
"Under the leadership of Sandy Willmore, the Nature Lady, we now have outdoor education enrichment in nearly every discipline from the arts to zoology. Programs now exist (in the preserve) during the school day, after the school day, weekends and in the summer months."
The ODNR has designated 133 WILD school sites since the program began in 2004 and has given out 234 grants to WILD school sites, said Jen Dennison, WILD school site program manager for the ODNR.
The ODNR has 40 $500 grants available each year to WILD school sites.
Resch said if the district would be eligible for any ODNR grants, the money could be used for:
* Completing nature trails within the preserve to standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
* Removing invasive species such as purple loosestrife, honeysuckle and multiflora rose.
* Supporting student-directed projects completed for the senior seminar graduation requirement and Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout service projects.
Franklin County has 11 other certified WILD sites. Licking County has six and Delaware County has two. The Columbus Jewish Day School in New Albany has one of the certified sites in Franklin County.