Magnet Theme

Cathy King
Magnet Facilitator

Garlough Environmental Magnet School (GEMS) has been a magnet school since 2007, making it School District 197's first magnet. It is now one of four magnet schools in the District. 

Garlough was formed in partnership with Dodge Nature Center, and offers the same comprehensive curriculum as the district’s other elementary schools, but with a nature-based theme integrated into every class. Garlough has gained numerous state and national recognitions, including being named a National Magnet School of Excellence in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2015 and a National Magnet School of Distinction in 2016 and 2018.

As an environmental magnet school, experiential learning is at the core of everything at GEMS. Through nature-based experiences in and outside the classroom, Garlough teachers and staff support and enhance children's intellectual, social, emotional and physical development.

At Garlough, students:

  • Participate in scientific observation and data collection to complete hands-on projects that build reading, math, science and technology skills.
  • Enjoy a school campus that includes 20 Outdoor Wonder Learning Stations (OWLS), a music wall, an amphitheater, forest area, Bird Central, chimney swift towers, an Edible Math Maze, a peace garden and more for true experiential learning.
  • Access Dodge Nature Center’s 320 acres of prairies, hardwood forests, lakes, wetlands, miles of hiking trails, plus a working farm, orchard and bee apiary.
  • Share their field observations with classmates across North America through the online project Journey North®
  • And more!

GEMS follows the Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines for Learning (K-12), published by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).

The Guidelines are organized into four strands, each representing a broad aspect of environmental education and its goals of environmental literacy. Each strand describes a level of skill or knowledge appropriate for each of three grade levels: 4th, 8th and 12th.

The kindergarten through 4th grade years are a time of tremendous cognitive development. By 3rd and 4th grades, our students will have developed some basic skills that help them construct knowledge. Teachers in earlier grade levels use these 4th grade guidelines as targets, extrapolating from the end goals appropriate activities and lessons for younger students.

In these early years of formal education, children tend to be concrete thinkers with a natural curiosity about the world around them. Our nature-based program can build on these characteristics by focusing on observation and exploration of the environment — beginning close to home. 

GEMS anticipates that Garlough students will be able to meet the guidelines by the end of 4th grade (if they have been in the environmental magnet program at least 4 years). These guidelines support, reinforce, and are aligned with many Minnesota science, mathematics and social studies standards that are being used to structure Garlough's K-4 curriculum.