Learning moves to nature at FDLTCC's Megwayaak Classroom
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College officials hosted their first event in the new outdoor classroom on Thursday, April 20.
CLOQUET — As the wind blew through the pine trees on the campus at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College on Thursday, April 20, the scent of burning firewood filled the air.
Activity centered on the college's Megwayaak, or outdoor, classroom right in the heart of campus as students, staff and members of the Thirteen Moons extension program set up for a sap demonstration.
They moved wood to a fire pit, set up an evaporator, got sap boiling on kettles in the outdoor classroom's kitchen and set up tables and chairs.
A cotton candy machine sat on a table, ready for Phillip Savage, Thirteen Moons coordinator, to show attendees how to make maple cotton candy.
If done with great care, sap can be boiled all the way down to sugar.
"It’s a precarious process. You’ve got to really watch your syrup because it’ll burn just like that. You’ve got to keep it constantly in motion," he said.
The sap boil, which was part of the college's Earth Week festivities, was the first event to be held in the Megwayaak Classroom, said Courtney Kowalczak, director of FDLTCC's Environmental Institute.
Officials spent two years planning for construction of the $1 million space, which ran from May to October 2022. The project was funded through a mix of internal and external sources, said Taylor Warnes, FDLTCC's director of marketing and communications.
The Megwayaak Classroom was a vision of the college's late president, Stephanie Hammitt, who died in November.
"She really wanted to have an outdoor space," Kowalczak said. "When you drive in, you get this whole different feeling coming into this campus with the trees and how we are part of the land we’re on here. This was an extension of that."
The main pavilion portion of the classroom channels the architecture of the college's commons, Kowalczak said, with large timber posts and wood on the ceiling. It's positioned as a shelter from wind and rain, and behind garage-style doors is a fully equipped kitchen. There's also a storage room for the classroom's tables and chairs.
"The structure is made and the positioning was made in order to shelter us from the winds and also to give us plenty of space to meld in to out," Kowalczak said.
The Environmental Institute will utilize the space for demonstrations, like Thursday's sap boil, but Kowalczak said she thinks faculty from across FDLTCC will find ways to get their classes outside.
Michelle Goose, an Anishinaabe language instructor and coordinator of FDLTCC's American Indian Studies program, said she sees possibilities for using the Megwayaak Classroom with her students.
"We do talk a lot about the environment just because it ties in with the language, so I often bring the outside into the classroom as much as I can, but I’m excited to have a space where I can bring the classroom outside," Goose said.
Walking around the space on Thursday, Goose said she likes that the classroom offers some protection from the elements while still allowing students and staff to be connected with nature.
"I love it," she said.
Jerome Henagin, an environmental science student from Cloquet, said he appreciates that the space can be used for a variety of activities, from demonstrations to classes.
"I think it’s really nice," he said.