The City of Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern Schools are taking hands-on learning to a new level.
The organizations recently added two destinations to a program that originally started seven years ago as the Nature First program at Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve. Students in grades corresponding with state standards that are taught at the destinations visit those destinations several times a year for hands-on learning.
After Amy Risinger retired as a New Britton Elementary first-grade teacher in 2019, she joined the Fishers Parks and Recreation Dept. as an education outreach coordinator. She already was familiar with the park’s Nature First program.
“I had the good fortune to fall in love with this program as an HSE teacher, and as I retired, the position to guide this program was presented to me and I jumped right on it because it’s literally the most perfect job,” Risinger said.
For Nature First, every first-grade HSE student visits the Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve twice a year, and Risinger visits each student’s classroom three times a year.
After seeing what an impact hands-on learning had with students, the city and school district enhanced their partnership and established more hands-on learning day trips, such as at Conner Prairie, AgriPark and Maker Playground in Hub & Spoke. Second-graders visit the AgriPark, fourth-graders visit Conner Prairie and fifth-graders visit the Maker Playground.
Brooke Daniel is the HSE teacher-in-residence at the AgriPark. Jennifer Suskovich is the HSE teacher-in-residence at the Maker Playground. Both trips are new this year, but the teachers aren’t new to HSE. Daniel previously taught first grade and Suskovich taught fifth- and sixth-grade science. Amy Murch is the HSE teacher-in-residence at Conner Prairie, a program that has existed for four years.
The AgriPark program, called Farm 2 Table, welcomes students three times a year.
“Unit 1 is about plant and animal adaptations. Unit 2 is centered around erosion and engineering and design process. Unit 3 is around planting, weather, temperature and measurement,” Daniel said. “It’s all done at the AgriPark. They get there, we do a lesson, whatever the focus is for that unit, and then they’re out exploring, collecting data, doing observation.”
The AgriPark class is from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
For the Maker Playground, all fifth-grade students in HSE Schools visit twice per semester.
“They are doing lots of different STEM activities to give them an in-depth look,” Suskovich said.
“All these programs are all based on the Indiana state standards,” Risinger said.
Daniel said the hands-on programming allows students to learn in a real-world way.
“It really takes the standards off of the paper,” she said. “What they’re learning is huge in all these programs.”
Fishers Parks and Recreation Director Sarah Sandquist said the City of Fishers prioritized experiential learning over strictly classroom learning.
“We focus a lot in the city on experiential learning and creating experiences for the students to learn within their city,” Sandquist said. “We were really thinking about what other opportunities (are available) to get out of the classroom and have real-world experience. We’ve always been great partners with HSE schools, and this is just another extension.”
Taking students outside of the classroom allows them to discover that they can learn anywhere.
“These learning experiences level the playing field for all kids,” Risinger said.
Expanding to City Hall
Another hands-on field trip is in the planning stage. It will require all third-grade students to visit Fishers City Hall for civic education standards.
A City Hall tour already exists, but a teacher-in-residence isn’t employed at City Hall.
“We kind of have a civic program now but it’s not every third-grader,” Fishers Parks and Recreation Director Sarah Sandquist. “We would like to see that as it aligns with the learning standards of third grade. At some point, we’d like to build that out.”