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Washington Park opens after 'boot camp' (video)

Although classes began Monday morning at Washington Park Environmental Studies High School, students at the District's unique agricultural and animal science academy had already been on site for a three-day “boot camp.”  
The camp was held on the school grounds last week to help prepare a new freshman class and the rest of the school for science studies at the academy, which includes a 13,000-square-foot greenhouse and housing for a variety of small animals.
Washington Park sits on 55 acres alongside the Cleveland Metroparks Washington Park Reservation and Golf Course on the border of Cleveland and Newburgh Heights
“I've lived in Northeast Ohio my entire life and I had no idea this school was here until a few years ago,” said veterinarian Dr. Tifany Meyer, a teacher in her second year at Washington Park. “This whole staff is committed to increasing the amount of science teaching we do with our students, no matter if they come to us because they are thinking of a career or just because they picked us for some other reason.”
Washington Park draws students who are already serious about environmental studies, as well as others who have a more casual interest or are attending the school because of other reasons, including location, Meyer said.

The school gets a rush of media coverage for its annual Christmas and Mothers' Day plant sales, but Meyer said the school also has guinea pigs, ferrets, rabbits, snakes, iguanas, lizards, turtles, fish, mice, hamsters, rats and doves that the students care for while learning about the animals' biological systems.

New teacher Raven Hickson – a graduate of James Ford Rhodes High and Cornell University, where she earned an animal science degree – was a bundle of energy organizing the freshman class for a week-ending field day “Decathlon.”
The hectic event was a series of 10 activities like crab-walking, wheelbarrow, pushups, soccer ball dribbling and more, ending with the last competitor at each grade level answering a science-based question from the Ohio Graduation Test (see video at top).

Hickson is thrilled that her first teaching job will be at Washington Park (see video, right).

“I'm really excited to teach animal science here,” she said. “I've never seen a high school like this. We have all this natural space and the greenhouse, too. It's awesome.”

Senior Alysha Simon is hoping to go to veterinarian school next year.

“I like the animal care, especially,” she said. “But we're so fortunate that we have the horticultural classes, too.”

Fellow senior Britnee Wiggins said she doesn't have the same career aspirations but that the experience at Washington Park has challenged and changed her.

“We learn so much here, I think more than at any other high school,” she said. “This isn't even my major, but there are so many opportunities and even for those who do want to be veterinarians, it's great because everything is hands-on.”

Special education, social studies and English teacher Robin Howell said many of Washington Park's new students truly experience nature – and the scientific study of plants and animals – for the first time when they come to the campus.

“I also think there is an openness here that makes the kids more relaxed,” she said. “There is no other school like this that I know of. You know, kids want new and exciting, and this is one of those places.”