From its inception, Florida’s Eden has stressed the connections between a healthy environment, a vibrant education system and a prosperous economy.

North Florida has the opportunity to emerge as a national leader in conservation, innovation and sustainability, but to do so it is imperative that we address our chronic education problems. We must reframe our education system to be the bridge to a 21st-century economy with skilled jobs and full prosperity.

A story worth a Hollywood movie!

What began over a decade ago as a young assistant principal’s dream has blossomed into one of the country’s most innovative education models. This new model begins with a simple premise: curriculum engages students when it is most relevant.

That young assistant is Keith Hatcher, now principal of Fort White High School, and his dream is becoming reality. Students at Fort White Middle and High Schools are filming a virtual tour of Ichetucknee Springs State Park; creating a student-to-student teaching website; presenting their work in elementary school classrooms; and helping build the Discovery Trail at the Park’s Education Center. They are taking samples, analyzing water and soil, documenting wildlife, filming, photographing, designing, writing and teaching.

The Ichetucknee Classroom

What is happening at Fort White is the development of a place-based education curriculum centered in the community’s natural environment, in this case the ancient Ichetucknee Springs Basin. Classes are held at the Ichetucknee Springs State Park and students contribute service hours as they learn the importance of civics first hand. This new approach integrates the scientific method with the communication skills of the humanities. The program values students as community members and encourages them to develop their own advocate voice.

The program is led by a partnership of Columbia County’s Fort White Middle and High Schools, The Ichetucknee Springs State Park and Florida’s Eden, with additional support from a broad range of institutions.† Against all odds and tackling the State’s monumental challenges such as attendance records, test scores, graduation numbers, writing skills and behavioral attitudes, this rural community in an economically distressed county is fast becoming one of America’s education epicenters.

Taking it National

Florida’s Eden is committed to bringing this model forward for state and national replication. Every student deserves an educational system that prepares him or her for the challenges ahead. An educational system that values a students talents, ambitions and voice. We need your help to take the Ichetucknee Classroom Model to schools throughout north Florida and the nation.

Education is exciting
Kids want to engage in relevant learning experiences
Schools are natural centers for community activity
Students want a civic voice; advocating for their communities and the environment
There can be a bridge from campus and community, to higher education and jobs
Everyone benefits when curriculum is “place based”
WE KNOW THIS IS POSSIBLE because it’s happening right here.

At Fort White Middle and High School in Columbia County, a dynamic partnership is creating a national education model. Administrators, faculty and students at Fort White, the Ichetucknee Springs State Park and Florida’s Eden are partnering with county and state agencies, the local business community, and environmental, civic and cultural organizations, pooling collective resources to pioneer the Ichetucknee Classroom Model which is successfully tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time.

Now in its sixth year, the outcomes are already amazing.

When science students launch a canoe at the headwaters of the Ichetucknee to film the river for a virtual tour, or, when a math class meets to engineer a canoe-maran for the State Park, they aren’t thinking about making history or solving the country’s education dilemmas. They’re excited about the day ahead: being outdoors, working as a team, and just having fun. The river is their classroom—the Park their laboratory. It’s just an average day at school.