Home Outdoor education Chattanooga area forestry school community grows with more schools, increased family interest

Chattanooga area forestry school community grows with more schools, increased family interest


Teagan, Rachel and Jeremy Thacker’s son, did well in mainstream school, but had a lot of energy and was often restless in class.

After switching to the model forestry school at Wauhatchie School for its third year, his parents said he had flourished. But a new concern arose: Teagan was about to quit the program at the end of the school year, and the family were nervous about his possible return to mainstream school.

Nature Kin Farm and Forestry School, a new school founded by the founder and former director of Wauhatchie, Jean Lomino, will open its doors to children aged 9 to 11 in August. After hearing about the new school, Rachel Thacker said her son was relieved.

“He was just a little torn about it, like ‘what are we going to do’, and then when they said they were going to do it, we were like, so relieved because he did so awesome in it. framework, and he’s just become like this new kid who wants to explore it all, ”said Rachel Thacker. “It’s like he’s totally out of place. He’s just a different kid, that’s great.”

The school, along with other outdoor programs, has grown into locations and enrollments amid the pandemic. Ahead of the new school year, more nature-focused education programs are available for families in the Chattanooga area.

Growing interest

The agricultural and forestry school is just one project Lomino is working on this summer. Another project, Nature Kin Pocket Forest Schools, will be an online membership program with the aim of expanding education from forest schools to parents, family groups and traditional schools in any location, such as a neighborhood or a family’s yard.

“A lot of parents now for sure have stayed home with their kids and learned firsthand what it was like to learn online, and I think a lot of them realized how point their children needed the outside. There were a lot more outdoor family experiences, ”said Lomino. “So what I’m doing is taking that idea and expanding it a bit, providing training for parents who want to get their kids out more and helping parents become more confident and helping them understand the benefits. for their children. “

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Chattanooga area forestry school community is growing

While the popularity of forestry schools has recently increased in the United States, Lomino said forestry schools are not a new concept. The school model originated in Europe in the 1950s and offers student-led learning for extended periods of time in an outdoor setting, regardless of the weather.

There are no licensing procedures for forestry schools in most of the United States, Lomino said, so they generally function as home school tutorials where parents enroll students in an accredited umbrella school.

Forestry schools have opened in Chattanooga in recent years, but the coronavirus pandemic has sparked greater interest in forestry schools in the area.

A new forestry school, River Gorge Forest School, will officially open this fall – one of its co-founders told The Times Free Press in June that the pandemic had spurred them to fulfill their dream of a forestry school.

Lomino said the Wauhatchie School has seen an increase in enrollment since 2019. For the 2019-2020 school year, enrollment reached 123 students across the four sites. Enrollment for the 2020-21 school year has increased to 160 students and is approaching 200 students for the next school year.

The Thacker family learned about forestry schools through social media and originally their children were enrolled in a private school. When the pandemic sent students home, parents said they noticed their children did well with distance learning because they didn’t have to sit in one place all day.

“We had envisioned the forestry school aspect, but it was never real until we were kind of forced into it by the pandemic, so the pandemic kind of opened our eyes to say” hey there are other options, if you’re gonna do that why don’t you do it your way? ‘”said Jeremy Thacker.” so we started looking, then in fall 2020, we put our three children in Wauhatchie school. “

Marisa Ogles has enrolled her son in Forest Kindergarten at Wauhatchie School to start in August, and he will be one of the youngest in his class as his birthday is just around the corner. She said she learned about the forestry school from people at work and felt it seemed like a good opportunity given her age and Chattanooga’s access to outside resources.

“I mean, it’s harder for us because we both work full time, to bring him in there and bring him back every day, but we think it’s really worth it, at least for at least a year, to provide him with that base to just be outdoors, appreciate nature and its incredible resources, and get him off the beaten track, ”Ogles said.

Expand access

Wauhatchie School and River Gorge Forest School include an application process and tuition fees on their websites, which could be a barrier to entry for underserved communities or low-income families interested in the format.

Lomino and Jeremy Thacker both said they hoped the model would expand to more public schools so that there was better access to outdoor education at no cost, and Lomino said the Pocket Forest Schools are one way to make it more accessible.

“This is why I want to offer this training so much to public school teachers because only people who can basically afford it can attend. Most forestry schools now, they are mostly private,” Lomino said. . “So it’s my dream to make it accessible to all children.”

Forest kindergartens and other models of outdoor education also exist in a handful of public schools in the Chattanooga area. Lomino said the Gilbert Elementary School Forest Kindergarten in Georgia’a Walker County, which started in 2015, is one of the models she has seen. In Hamilton County, Red Bank Elementary School launched a Forest Kindergarten program in 2016, which was the first of its kind for the school district.

Ivy Academy, a district magnetic school, approaches education through an environmental lens, and another magnetic school, the Barger Academy of Fine Arts, opened an outdoor classroom in April. The project, which began in 2019, involved students from all grade levels participating in the layout of the space, from designing a patio to making stepping stones.

Based on his son’s progress, Ogles said the plan was to have him repeat kindergarten or move up to grade one – at a traditional public school. She said friends told her she would like to keep him in forestry school, but said giving him at least a year in that setting would lay the foundation for enjoying the outdoors.

“I hope this will be a belief for him his whole life, that we kind of lay the foundation that he enjoys learning and that he sees, for example, the benefits in real time, in practice from the start “Ogles said. “I feel like I want to make sure he understands and can see the value of spending time outdoors and how fun and cool it can be and how much you can learn in that setting.”

The oldest of the Thackers, Raelynn, will be entering middle school at the traditional public school this fall. Since there aren’t many model forest schools for older students, parents said grade six would be a good time to go back to traditional schooling, as she and other students would all start together. in a new school.

Their son Arlo, 3, will continue his preschool education in Wauhatchie, and Jeremy Thacker has said he hopes Arlo can complete school in the forest model.

“Our plan for him is, hopefully, as he goes through the schools, he can eventually continue. Maybe new outdoor learning programs from middle school to high school or schools outdoors will open up, so hopefully we can start in the environment and keep it there. “

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at [email protected] or at 423-757-6592.