DENTON COUNTY At a former dude ranch in Denton County, dozens of elementary school students raced across open fields Wednesday, helping to cook their own campfire meals, laughing, and learning about nature.

This could be Scout camp, but it is, in fact, public education as we rarely see it.

'We just really try to do things differently at Northwest ISD,' said teacher CyLynn Braswell. 'We really try to push the progressive envelope... show experiential learning at its best.'

Braswell is director of the district's Outdoor Learning Center. She says most students in grades K-12 spend at least one day at the center during the school year. It's mandatory for 4th, 5th and 7th graders.

'We can teach weathering... erosion. There are lots of limestone rocks and fossils here. Everything offered here is interdisciplinary,' Braswell said. 'It touches everything.'

Northwest ISD is a fast-growing district north of Fort Worth near Texas Motor Speedway.

The learning center site used to be Diamond Lil's Dude Ranch, complete with antique tractors and wagons and rustic barns. The district bought 193 acres and all the buildings for $1.7 million in foreclosure in 2009.

Classes started two years ago. Wednesday was the first day of a three-day summer camp.

'Trying to teach those soft skills for a kid. Be able to understand how it is to be outside,' Braswell explained.

CyLynn Braswell hopes to someday prove a link between an outdoor learning experience and student achievement. It will be the topic of her Ph.D. studies.

It was clear from all the laughter and raised hands that she didn't have to prove anything to all the students enjoying their Wednesday at school camp.


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