Educational Partnerships

“It’s very cold outside-my fingers are so cold. My nose is running like a waterfall. The prairie is so quiet today I can hear myself think.”-Monroe Fifth Grader, Naturalist


Neal Smith NWR has partnered with schools and teachers to increase the impact and scope of environmental education in and around the Des Moines area.

Partner Schools

Neal Smith NWR staff provides and coordinates environmental education programs with selected schools called Partner Schools. Partner Schools visit the Refuge at least once a year for ranger led lessons and activities. Typically, chosen Partner Schools serve diverse and/or economically disadvantaged youth. It is usually required that the entire student body, each class in grades K-5, must visit the Refuge in order to hold partner school status.

“Once a teacher makes the connection between the classroom world and the world outside, enormous possibilities open up like a morning glory bud untwisting at dawn.” –Ann Zwinger, Naturalist and Author

The framework of the partner-school relationship and contract is purposeful. Research indicates that repeat visits throughout long periods of time substantially improve the impact of environmental education program (Hungerford and Volk, 1991; Peterson, 1981). Furthermore, economically disadvantaged youth are proportionally given less opportunities to learn and explore outdoors.

Our partner schools include:

  • Stowe Elementary
  • Monroe Elementary
  • Prairie City Elementary
  • Lincoln Elementary

These are examples of journal entries from student naturalists at our partner schools.

Partner Teachers

The Partner Teacher Program is open to any teacher that is interested in using the Refuge as an outdoor classroom. Partner Teachers are required to attend at least one FREE ranger-led teacher workshop at Neal Smith NWR, which typically occurs in June. Partner Teachers receive trainings, field trip planning support, priority scheduling for field trips, and a copy of the entire Project Bluestem Curriculum. Upon completion of the workshop, there is a possibility to receive Drake college credit and/or AEA credit towards license renewal. Please call Nancy at 515-994-3400 for the latest teacher workshop programming information and date availability.

“What is it like at NSNWR? It is a dream to live outside. I love it. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me. You should try it. You will have alot of fun!” Monroe Fifth Grader, Naturalist

“What is a winter prairie? A winter prairie is fresh, cold and pretty. The landscape is filled with deep snow and dead plants but the beauty of it is fascinating. I feel peacefulness on the prairie. Animal prints follow my every step.” Monroe Fifth Grader, Naturalist

Scheduling Class Visits

Besides personal transportation costs, field trips are completely free of charge. However, staff only lead a portion of non-partner school group activities. Partner schools are schools that have agreed to bring every grade level of their school to the refuge at least once a year.

Neal Smith staff may provide assistance in creating the day’s schedule, providing materials, and leading a stewardship session. While at the refuge, teachers and their students may hike through the prairie, explore our expansive exhibit area, and watch the Refuge film, “Return to Wildness”.

Teachers are expected to lead and teach students for some activities. Many resources are available at the following link to our Revised Project Bluestem Curriculum. For a list of relevant activities to do with your students, please visit the refuge website at:

 If you are interested in scheduling a field trip to Neal Smith NWR for your students, please contact Nancy Corona  by phone at 515-994-3400 or email

P.O. Box 399
9981 Pacific St.
Prairie City, IA 50228
Get Directions
The refuge roads and trails are open daily from dawn to dusk.

The Prairie Learning and Visitor Center is open year-round.
Regular Hours:
Sunday-Saturday from 9am-4pm

Winter hours:
December 1-February 28
Monday-Saturday from 9am-4pm; closed Sunday.

We are open on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day; we are closed on all other Federal holidays.