Southeast Polk Environmental Learning Center (ELC)

The vision for our Environmental Learning Center (ELC) programs at Southeast Polk schools is that all students engage in environmental based learning through student-centered field research to identify challenges and promote sound stewardship.

The mission of the Environmental Learning Center is to provide opportunities for students to collaborate, communicate, create, and think critically while learning about Iowa’s outdoor environment. Students participate in hands-on learning and research opportunities in order to build the skills they need to be the next generation of problem solvers and thoughtful land stewards.

The Metro Waste Authority Environmental Learning Center property is located in Eastern Polk County and is part of the Camp Creek watershed. The building is equipped with two classrooms that accommodate approximately 25 students each. The building also houses some donated and purchased lab and sampling equipment. Outside spaces include hundreds of acres of undeveloped land and considerable frontage on Camp Creek. The address is 11730 SE 6th Ave, Runnells, IA 50237.

Southeast Polk Community School District (SEP) is part of a partnership that includes Metro Waste Authority and Drake University. The ELC is owned by Metro Waste Authority and is utilized by Drake and Southeast Polk for student learning. All Southeast Polk students have access to learning opportunities at this site. This includes student experiences in grades K-12 for full and ½ day field experiences as well as a high school environmental science course that meets at the ELC daily. Thousands of students visit the ELC each year.

Every year, groups of elementary and secondary teachers have been participating in week-long summer workshops at the ELC. These workshops facilitated by Dr. Keith Summerville of Drake University have focused on creating experiences and lessons that incorporate STEM in an environmental setting. ELC professional development workshops have resulted in increased use and interest in utilizing this facility for student learning.

The ELC facilitates and enhances STEM learning. Students will study real world local environmental issues in an integrated setting. These studies and learning have a direct impact on our quality of life in Iowa. There is no denying that our students are living and communicating in a 21st-century world where they are connected 24/7. Many of the careers we preparing them for do not yet exist and most, if not all, will require the use of technology. Our teachers need to prepare our students for the way they will be working in the future.

Each year as many as 3,500 K-12 students, dozens of staff members, and outside experts visit to teach and learn about the environment at this unique facility.  In addition to indoor classrooms and a lab, the site has mowed trails, restored prairie, and access to ponds and Camp Creek.