Severson Learning Center - more than a classroom

Gloria Hafemeister
Cambridge FFA President Denise Olson is one of the many students that benefits from the outdoor classrooms and activities at the Cambridge School District's Severson Learning Center.

CAMBRIDGE – As an ag student and president of the Cambridge FFA, Denise Olson is excited about the opportunity to study in an outdoor classroom and keep her lambs at the barn on the property.

As schools get underway all across the state, Olson recognizes the benefit for the students in the Cambridge School District who have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoor classrooms and activities at the school’s Severson Learning Center.

The Severson Learning Center is an 80-acre property gifted to the district for outdoor education. Teachers and students in grades 4K–12 utilize the pond, forests, fields and gardens for multidisciplinary educational activities.

Olson says “It’s a place where we can learn how to accomplish goals, raise our animals and teach kids about agriculture and let them know they can do anything they want to achieve. Because of this place we can be in agriculture classes without living on a farm.”

Ag instructor and FFA advisor Emily Klingbeil says the farm provides an opportunity for FFA students to raise animals regardless if they live on a farm or not; with the Severson Farm or alumni helping to provide animals and space to raise them for the students.

During the school year Deerfield agriculture students also come to Cambridge to study ag-science. In the winter, Klingbeil takes her agriculture students out to look for tracks and other tell-tale animal signs in the snow.

SLC isn’t just limited to agriculture students. The farm also sees art students tour the facility in search of real-world and natural items to turn into pieces of art.

The sixth and seventh grade students also make stops out to the SLC, with activities that tie into books students are reading. The sixth grade students go on a scavenger hunt related to their reading, while the seventh grade learns more directly what it takes to live on a farm.

The Severson Learning Center offers educational opportunities year round. Ag educator Emily Klingbeil often takes her students out to look for tracks and other tell-tale animal signs in the snow.

The high school’s tech-ed department got involved by designing and building a shed on the farm and docks in the pond.

Some FFA alumni members plant crops on the unused land on the farm. Jennifer says the long-range goal is to work more with the crops and have students involved in some research on the fields.

A learning center for all

The physical education department is getting involved by developing their fitness on the trails, snow shoeing and cross country skiing.

During summer 150 elementary students in the district participated in summer school classes. The property is also home to the Cambridge Food Pantry Garden and Farm to School gardens.

The center has some long standing and yearly traditions, too. For example, as part of their curriculum, the third grade class learns about soil. As such, one day the third graders ventured out to the SLC to not only get a hands-on learning opportunity with soil, but also the opportunity to run tests on the soil and then take that knowledge back with them into the classroom.

Each year in about mid-May kindergarten through second grade students visit the SLC to experience hands-on learning about all things farm and wildlife. The day includes eight to ten stations which the young students rotate through throughout the day.

Several grants have helped improve the site in the last few years and the district has long-range plans to develop a classroom space and multi-purpose animal farm to further increase student learning opportunities.

The district hopes to begin an agricultural and environmental-based charter school within the next two years.

The district would also like to eventually build facilities for housing larger farm animals for students. Right now students keep lambs, pigs and goats at the farm. Eventually the district would like to open the facilities for livestock shows and workshops as well.