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Wilton Simpson Environmental Learning Trail Unveiled at Pepin Academies New Port Richey Campus

by | Jan 27, 2024 | News - NPR, Pepin Press | 0 comments

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Thursday, January 25, 2024 —Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and former Senate President, Wilton Simpson, joined Pasco educational leaders today to unveil a new outdoor educational trail and classroom designed for students with learning disabilities at Pepin Academies. Named in honor of the former Senate President, the Wilton Simpson Environmental Learning Trail spans 5 acres of forested flatwoods and includes a ¼ mile nature trail, exercise equipment, and a shaded outdoor classroom.

“Being outside in nature has a profound impact on human wellbeing, particularly for children and exceptional students. Evidence shows that engaging with nature is hugely beneficial for cognitive and psychological development,” said Jeff Skowronek, Executive Director at Pepin Academies.

“The nature trail and outdoor classroom have a broad range of educational, recreational, and therapeutic uses. It is an enriching, safe, multi-sensory learning environment designed to accommodate the unique educational challenges that Pepin Academies students face.”

Located at the school’s New Port Richey campus, the learning trail was funded through a state appropriation sponsored by Senator Ed Hooper and championed by then-Senate President Simpson.

“It is a great honor to be a part of this project and involved with such a high-quality organization. The Pepin Academies model revolutionized education for children with unique abilities. Pepin Academies students, empowered by their education and training, go on to enter the workforce and live productive lives.” said Commissioner Wilton Simpson during the dedication ceremony to formally open the trail on Thursday.

“Florida is a universal school choice state, and Pepin Academies is an excellent model of this, where parents can make the educational choices that they know are best for their child’s learning.”

The trail will be used to apply a variety of classroom subjects in a therapeutic setting, from biology to physical education, mathematics, social studies, and even photography classes.

“The nature trail is an excellent resource for our student population, many of whom struggle with traditional classroom environments,” said Kathie Burns, Principal at Pepin Academies New Port Richey.

“It creates many opportunities for activities, classes and support sessions that cater to their unique learning style. Most recently, the 10th-grade students participated in an outdoor math scavenger hunt, solving math equations placed throughout the trail. Our speech and occupational therapists use the nature sounds, sights, scents, and textures to help students develop social, emotional, and communication skills. Students taking photography classes enjoy the scenery, and Transition Program students in the culinary program even developed their own ‘Simpson Trail Mix’ for students to snack on while using the trail.”

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