Educational Partnerships

Prairie Learning Center sign

 "Once a teacher makes the connection between the classroom world and the world outside, enormous possibilities open up like a morning glory bud untwisting at dawn.” –Ann Zwinger, Naturalist and Author

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) has partnered with schools and teachers to increase the impact and scope of environmental education in and around the Des Moines area.

Partner Schools

Neal Smith NWR staff provides and coordinates environmental education programs with selected schools called Partner Schools. Partner Schools visit the Refuge at least once a year for ranger led lessons and activities. Typically, chosen Partner Schools serve diverse and/or economically disadvantaged youth. It is usually required that the entire student body, each class in grades K-5, must visit the Refuge annually in order to hold partner school status.

The framework of the partner school relationship is purposeful. Research indicates that repeat visits throughout long periods of time substantially improve the impact of an environmental education program (Hungerford and Volk, 1991; Peterson, 1981). Furthermore, economically disadvantaged youth are proportionally given less opportunities to learn and explore outdoors.

Our current partner schools include:

  • Stowe Elementary
  • Monroe Elementary
  • Prairie City Elementary

Partner Teachers

The Partner Teacher Program is open to any teacher that is interested in using the Refuge as an outdoor classroom. Partner Teachers are required to attend at least one FREE ranger-led teacher workshop at Neal Smith NWR, which typically occurs in June. Partner Teachers receive trainings, field trip planning support, priority scheduling for field trips, and a copy of the entire Project Bluestem Curriculum. Upon completion of the workshop, there is a possibility to receive Drake college credit and/or AEA credit towards license renewal. Please call 515-994-3400 or email for the latest teacher workshop programming information and date availability.

“It’s very cold outside-my fingers are so cold. My nose is running like a waterfall. The prairie is so quiet today I can hear myself think.”-Monroe Fifth Grader, Naturalist

"What is it like at NSNWR? It is a dream to live outside. I love it. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me. You should try it. You will have alot of fun!” Monroe Fifth Grader, Naturalist

“What is a winter prairie? A winter prairie is fresh, cold and pretty. The landscape is filled with deep snow and dead plants but the beauty of it is fascinating. I feel peacefulness on the prairie. Animal prints follow my every step.” Monroe Fifth Grader, Naturalist