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Sugar Maple Nature School expands to Hawthorne Hills County Park

Ozaukee County, WI – Sugar Maple Nature School (SMNS), 4880 Highway I, Saukville, WI, formerly known as the Riveredge Outdoor Learning Elementary School (ROLES), has relocated to Hawthorne Hills County Park in Ozaukee County. The move comes as a result of the school’s need for more space and a desire to expand its programs to include middle school grades.

Sugar Maple

Established in 2019, SMNS is a tuition-free, public elementary, nature-based charter school authorized by the Northern Ozaukee School District. The school currently serves elementary students from kindergarten to 5th grade, with plans to expand through 8th grade.

“Our school has been operating for five years as a tuition free charter school aimed to provide an exceptional academic experience with nature-based STEM learning,” said Cindy Raimer, Director of Education at SMNS.

“As a result of our relocation to Hawthorne Hills County Park, this creates a new beginning for the school and new opportunities to more deeply engage with the broader community as we will be located at a no fee required park space.”

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The vision of SMNS is “Growing Minds Through Nature,” which is achieved by creating a hands-on learning environment where curriculum is brought to life and curiosity is fostered each day through time in the natural world.

“The quest for a new home for Sugar Maple Nature School (SMNS) was not one we had anticipated just five years after our inception,” said Korinne Haeffel-Petersen, SMNS Governance Council President.

“Yet, faced with the reality of our co-habitation with Riveredge Nature Center (RNC) reaching its end in June 2024, we found ourselves on an expedited timeline of only 18 months to secure a new location for the 2024-2025 school year. While this might seem like an insurmountable task to some, our resilient leaders and supportive community rallied together to embark on this critical endeavor.”

The school’s mission is to create a laboratory for outdoor learning that amplifies the outcomes of public education, serves learners of all abilities and needs, fosters a deep connection to the environment, and prepares students for success in school and life.

The relocation to Hawthorne Hills County Park marks a new chapter for SMNS. The 57.1-acre park provides an unparalleled natural setting for outdoor learning, with direct access to the Milwaukee River, expansive hiking trails, and abundant wildlife. This move aligns with the school’s mission to foster a deep connection with nature in its students.

“In contrast to our previous facilities use agreement, our new partnership with Ozaukee County Parks is structured around land use rather than facility use. This distinction grants us greater autonomy and unrestricted access to outdoor spaces and amenities within the allotted 5.5 acres,” said Raimer. “This arrangement aligns more closely with our educational objectives, allowing for enhanced utilization of natural resources and outdoor learning opportunities.”

“In addition, our cooperation with Ozaukee Country Parks will continue our practice of providing our students with the opportunity to learn about invasive species and high value plants, along with the experience of removing invasive species and cultivating high value vegetation, improving the park space for the broader community and creating stewards of natural Wisconsin landscape,” said Raimer.

In preparation for the move, Sugar Maple Nature School has worked diligently to secure the new location and design innovative learning spaces. The school is exploring the acquisition of modular structures that offer customization and modern amenities to elevate the learning experience for students. These structures can be swiftly erected and relocated with minimal impact on the park’s natural surroundings.

The relocation to Hawthorne Hills County Park represents a testament to the resilience and collaborative spirit of the SMNS community. Despite the challenges posed by the need to relocate, the school remains committed to providing an exceptional learning environment for its students.

As part of its strategic plan, SMNS is striving to raise $2.5 million during its capital campaign to support the acquisition of a modular classroom building. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, every dollar raised up to $1 million will be matched 1:1.

For more information about Sugar Maple Nature School and to support its capital campaign, visit their website.

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