New Outdoor Educational Space Dedicated at Monmouth College’s Farm

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 For the past few years, local schoolchildren have been able to do various types of hands-on learning at the Monmouth College Educational Farm, located on the east side of town at 419 N. 12th St.

But after factoring in the time it takes to get from their respective schools to the farm – typically, for K-3 students at nearby Lincoln Elementary School, nearly an hour to walk there and back – there wasn’t as much of an opportunity to learn as initially hoped.

Enter the yurt – the new outdoor classroom space at the farm that will be formally dedicated at 1 p.m. April 13. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

Historically, a yurt is a tent-like style of house used by ancient nomadic tribes in Central Asia, particularly Mongolia. At Monmouth’s farm, the tent-like structure, which has a 30-foot diameter, will seat up to 40 people and, importantly, provide a sheltered area that will allow visiting students and their teachers to spend much more time on-site during their field trips.

The yurt will be covered and heated, and it will be equipped with tables and chairs, as well as magnifying glasses, binoculars and microscopes, among other scientific tools.

“They’ll be able to be out there for all seasons and for longer amounts of time,” said educational studies professor Craig Vivian, a co-director of the farm who’s one of the main advocates of the place-based learning that the College is helping to bring to area schools. “They can get out here in the morning and spend three hours out here, or more. It will give them much more substantive opportunities for the kids to do projects related to math and science.”

One of the College’s related initiatives is TARTANS, which stands for Teachers Allied with Rural Towns and Neighborhood Schools. The new yurt provides a way to strengthen that alliance.

The yurt helps convert

Monmouth’s farm has evolved during the past decade or so, and the yurt will usher in a new era of growth, thanks, in part, to the three-year, $750,000 grant that made the facility possible. U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois secured the grant at the beginning of last year through the federal Community Project Funding program.

Also in the works, said Lori Ferguson, the College’s director of rural education initiatives, are elements such as solar panels, a walking path, a pumpkin patch, new farm animals and revitalizing the existing pond.

“We’re making it more and more of an educational site,” she said. “There will be different ways to enjoy nature, and different ecosystems introduced.”

Area schoolchildren won’t be the only beneficiaries, as Monmouth faculty members, including biology professors, will also be able to take students to the farm, similar to how nearby Hamilton Pond has been used in past years.

Additionally, physics professor Chris Fasano has a weather station located at the farm.

“The farm and the yurt are unique facilities for a small college, and we think it will be attractive to incoming students,” said Ferguson.

Dessert at the yurt

In addition to Vivian and Ferguson, educational studies professors Arren Duggan and Tamara La Prad will speak at the ceremony. It will be followed by several stations of activities, staffed by TARTANS, including ones involving potted plants, making blueberry ice cream, and making prayer flags, an ancient Asian tradition meant to provide protection from negative forces and bring balance and harmony to the environment.

“In Mongolia, they always decorated their domiciles with spiritual messages on the flags,” said Vivian. “Most kids will not know about that, but making the flags is still a fun activity for them.”

Perhaps some of the flags will be decorated with a phrase that Vivian said he’s adopted as his mantra for the Monmouth College Educational Farm: “Love nature.”

***Courtesy of Barry McNamara, Monmouth College***

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