Educators from Black Hills State University and local school districts are collaborating their volunteer efforts to enhance animal education at the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary to support the future Animal Education Center.

A few years ago, Black Hills State University assistant professor of education, Micheline Hickenbotham, teamed up with East Elementary first grade teacher, Leesa Haugland, to secure a grant to educate school children at the Sanctuary. Since that grant, the education needs at the Sanctuary have increased and the necessity for an indoor classroom and education center emerged.

An education taskforce was formed to make sure there is a solid mission and beliefs for the center. Identifying essential resources for teachers before and after a visit to the Sanctuary is also a priority. The taskforce includes Hickenbotham; Haugland; Marla Elsom, Belle Fourche Middle School teacher; and Kathleen Matthew, BHSU associate professor of education.

The vision of the education taskforce is now becoming reality. The Sanctuary is moving forward with the Animal Education Center after receiving the first donation for construction.
The Animal Education Center will include a classroom for students to utilize for projects and learning, a rooftop patio for viewing the animals, a visitor center where visitors can gather before or after tours, underground kennels, underground storage and animal preparation, and a volunteers’ room for Sanctuary volunteers to meet and store belongings.

“I am excited that students will have the opportunity to do classroom work and preparation, as well as have a place to eat lunch at the Sanctuary,” notes Hickenbotham. “The Animal Education Center will reach all ages of students, elementary school through doctoral programs.”

The Sanctuary continues to work closely with the surrounding communities through the help of many volunteers. Many students, faculty, and staff from BHSU volunteer at the Sanctuary. Student volunteers are currently setting up webcams at the Sanctuary. The webcams will be accessible online to everyone to learn more about the animal and their care.

To learn more about Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary visit www.spiritofthehillssanctuary.org.