School Spotlight: Champlin Brooklyn Park Academy
Learning doesn't always have to happen in a classroom full of desks and textbooks. For proof, look no further than Champlin-Brooklyn Park Academy (CBPA).

"We have a large number of kids coming in from other neighborhood schools that just want this experience," said Principal Brian Mann.

It's a specialty school in the Anoka-Hennepin School District with a focus on math and the environment. To help the teachers get their message across, CBPA has a greenhouse and a garden at their disposal.

"They don't realize just how unique this place is," Mann said. "They think that every elementary school is just like CBPA, with a greenhouse, with raised back gardens."

The school has a unique set of resources, but there's another big teaching tool they use: the Mississippi River.

"It's wonderful because a lot of kids live right by here," said Tom Intihar, a 3rd-grade teacher at CBPA. "You know, and [the river] is right in their back yard. So for science, it's wonderful."

When CCX News met up with the students at the Coon Rapids Dam, a group of third graders were searching the river for insect larva.

"They're talking about the differences between the river insects and the pond insects," Intihar said. "We will go to the pond in May and compare the two."

A naturalist from the Three Rivers Park District led the excursion. It's part of a partnership that's been around since the early 2000s.

"We see the naturalists once a month," Intihar said. "Sometimes it's here. Sometimes it's at school. But there's some type of focus every month, and all the grade levels are different."

It's just one of the many ways the students learn about science outside of textbooks.

"If we tried to explain this in a classroom, especially if it's like a Friday afternoon or something, you're losing them," Intihar said. "I mean, they've been excited about this since they found out about it."

Ultimately, the students benefit by learning how the environment impacts their lives. It's a fact not lost on parents.

"I think this is all really good for the kids to learn and grow and respect the animals and the water and the plants and things like that," said Michelle Schmid, a CBPA parent.

So whether it's at the Mississippi River, or in a garden on campus, this hands-on experience can put the students on a path to become scientists or mathematicians.

"When the kids actually see the river, when they can look at what is in the river, when they can touch the plants, when they can see the different senses that are involved in the plants, it sinks into their brain and they keep it or retain it," said Mann, the principal.

If the students choose a different path, then at the very least, they learn to appreciate the environment.

"This is the best way to learn, I think," Intihar said.

In addition to its partnership with the Three Rivers Park District, Champlin-Brooklyn Park Academy also teams up with experts from the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Zoo, and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

Delane Cleveland

Oct. 12, 2017


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