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Koshkonong Trails charter school delivering on its mission

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From the beginning, Koshkonong Trails charter school and the Cambridge School District’s 82-acre school farm felt like the perfect pairing.

Now, in the school’s third year of existence, the location remains central to its mission.

The Severson Learning Center has a historic barn with space for farm animals, trails, a pond, an orchard and a garden. Just across the road is the CamRock county park system with renowned mountain bike trails and Koshkonong Creek, a regional paddling destination.

The school has so lived up to expectations that the Cambridge School Board recently voted to extend its contract another five years. The contract extension still needs final approval from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Koshkonong Trails is today one of 43 project-based middle and high schools in Wisconsin. Only five others, in Milwaukee, Augusta, Montello and at two sites in Hayward, have an environmental focus, according to their profiles on the DPI’s website,

And only two others, in Mondovi and Middleton, are place-based, which for Koshkonong Trails involves an intentional effort to connect students to Cambridge and the surrounding rural area through projects, outings and community service.

Koshkonong Trails is the only one with both project and placed-based focuses.

Koshkonong Trails students are seeking a small rural school. Its numbers have inched up since the fall of 2018, but not much. It now has 28 students in grades 7-12, up from 20 the first year.

Students are seeking a curriculum that allows them to pursue independent projects while still fulfilling core state educational standards.

And they are seeking a setting that works for them.

We have gotten better in recent generations, at recognizing that where students learn matters. Some do best at a traditional middle or high school, energized by a large student body and a typical class routine. Others learn best in alternative settings like Koshkonong Trails, where they have the freedom to direct their own learning and to take it outdoors.

In December, the school celebrated its first graduate. We look forward to more.

We hope Koshkonong Trails’ story is just beginning.

We look forward to its future growth, not in numbers because we agree that it’s best kept small, but in a deepening understanding of how it can best serve students.

We look forward, as well, to future conversations about a permanent school building.

Before Koshkonong Trails opened, there was enthusiastic discussion about potentially renovating the barn as classrooms. A modular building was ultimately brought in as the most practical choice to get the school rolling. It remains in use.

We hope the idea of renovating the barn resurfaces. Koshkonong Trails has proven itself to be a place where students thrive. They deserve a space that’s as inspiring as what they’re learning and doing.

In the meantime, we celebrate five more years ahead, and hope for many more.

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