LAKE STATION | An associate professor at Indiana University Northwest called Deep River Educational Center a jewel in the middle of an urbanized area.
Ellen Szarleta, an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and director of the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence at Indiana University Northwest, took a tour of the nearly 80-acre educational center with Gary schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt Friday.
The Deep River Education Center, owned by the Gary Community School Corp., is located at 3100 Liverpool Road in Lake Station.
The two are looking at ways the university and school corporation can collaborate and work together to revitalize the educational center to benefit students in Gary schools as well as those at Indiana University Northwest.
Pruitt said elementary and secondary students regularly visit the environmental center, but the district would like to further develop it for students and the community.
"We'd like to build out the facilities, restore the cabins and greenhouses and support the programs here," Pruitt said, looking into the distance at hundreds of oak, maple, mulberry and ash trees on the acreage.
Szarleta said it's amazing to have this type of natural resource in the middle of an urbanized area. "It's very unique," she said as she walked with Pruitt through the woods.
"It's a great asset, not just for the Gary school children but also for the community," Szarleta said. "There are social and academic benefits to students visiting this center."
The pair envision applying for federal and state grants, as well as private donations, to restore the facilities and maintain the grounds. Szarleta said she can see college students doing internships at the center.
Gary teacher Alfred Holmes said students do a number of projects when they visit the environmental center, including animal identification and classification, bird study, nature walks, flower and weed identification, tree leaf identification, recycling and other activities. He pointed out the video library and several pictures from school children visits over the years. He said he has counted about 18 deer in the area, and there are 26 different species of trees.
Paraprofessional Catherine Shough said students also have used one of the hills to go sledding, something they can't do in an urban area.
Students from Banneker Achievement Center and Frankie Woods McCullough Academy for Girls were doing food chain activities there Friday. Banneker third-grade teacher Geraldine Champion said she integrates the lesson with her science standards.