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New habitat for nature-focused school

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New habitat for nature-focused school
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

Michael Frome Academy is no more -- at least in name and location.

On July 1 the environment-focused charter school packed up its classrooms and moved to a new facility in St. Paul Park.

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"We needed to find a bigger spot," director Kirsten Kinzler said. "It was pretty packed in our old space -- it was very close quarters in there."

The school will include kindergarten through fifth grade this fall.

The new facility is housed in the activities building and parish hall at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in St. Paul Park on Holley Avenue.

In addition to changing locations, Michael Frome Academy changed its name to the Natural Science Academy.

Kinzler said the school decided to move forward with a name change because they frequently received questions over what the school is, and with the move, it seemed like the perfect time to change the name.

"We landed on Natural Science Academy because there's not a lot of questions of what we're about then," Kinzler said. "The name says it all."

The school does state that it's named for environmentalist Michael Frome, though.

Natural Science Academy began looking for a new site last year when they knew that their student population was going to grow to 70 students for the next school year and that was the maximum number of students the old building could house.

The school had been at the Woodbury location for two years.

When the school was built two years ago specifically for the Natural Science Academy, Kinzler said staff always knew it was going to be a temporary home.

"We've been looking for a new space all along since we knew going in that the space didn't have room to grow," she said.

Natural Science Academy looked in Woodbury for possible larger sites so that it wouldn't have to leave its current home, but nothing was available.

Kinzler said staff knew that they wanted to stay within District 833 since the school district has been good with providing transportation for students.

Through the grapevine, Kinzler heard about the space at the St. Thomas Aquinas Church, which was previously used for a preschool program, but which currently stands unused with the exception of weekly religion education classes.

Kinzler said the space was perfect for their needs because it was clean, had room to grow and it wasn't being used.

"The church was so open to having the space be used for a school again," she said. "One thing led to another and we got a lease."

Natural Science Academy's official lease begins Aug. 1.

The new facility includes 10 classrooms and a shared cafeteria with the adjoined Hope Christian Academy.

"We're excited about the space inside and out," Kinzler said. "We want this to be a more permanent site for us."

With a move 10 minutes away, it's no surprise that the Natural Science Academy had to say goodbye to a few students because of the longer commute.

Kinzler said about five families, mainly from the Stillwater and Lake Elmo Area, left because the commute would be too much of a strain.

"We were sorry to see them go," she said. "There were families that we lost, but we haven't even tapped into the St. Paul Park market yet."

Now that Natural Science Academy has officially moved out of its previous building, Woodbury's Math and Science Academy, which is located next door to the school's former site, will expand its school into the building, according to developer Robert Engstrom, who owns the building.

"It was a winning combination for everyone," Engstrom said.

The building is currently in the process of being remodeled.

"It makes perfect sense for Math and Science Academy to move in there," Kinzler said. "It just seemed natural."

Natural Science Academy did have to give up one thing in its move to St. Paul Park -- its acre of woods.

The school has a big open lawn instead.

"Obviously it's not our little acre of woods, but I don't think we'll miss it too much," Kinzler said.

Natural Science Academy did get a tradeoff for its woods, since it will be close to the Mississippi River, which will be used greatly in the school's lessons.

"One of my big goals for the kids is to understand where they are in relation to the river," said lead teacher Kendra Hunding. "The river is probably going to be the theme that runs through this year."

Some of the lessons related to the river will include river systems, history and natural ecosystems.

In addition to the river, Hunding said she intends to incorporate other lessons that she wasn't able to previously.

For example, Hunding said she intends to have the children do a prairie planting of natural plants on the open lawn to teach the students about runoff .

Additionally, Hunding hopes to have a vegetable garden onsite that the children can take care of, and maybe look to the church to take care of during the summer months.

"We just didn't have the space to do the garden before," she said. "We've never been able to do the whole planting cycle before."

Two other minor changes will be incorporated into Natural Science Academy next year -- adding kindergarten and fifth-graders and the addition of a hot lunch program.

Now that Natural Science Academy has space to grow to over 100 students, Kinzler said the school will work toward get acquainted with the community and possibly finding some new students.

"Getting to know the new community will be important and becoming a part of it and finding our place," she said. "We are going to do our best to plant ourselves here and hopefully find a new niche."

For more information about the Natural Science Academy visit http://mnmfa.org/cms/

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
(651) 702-0976
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