MDC Discover Nature Schools wins Governor’s Award for Innovation

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Discover Nature Schools (DNS) program and those who provide it were honored at the Capitol this week with the Governor’s Award for Quality and Productivity.

For the past 30 years, the Office of Administration has awarded winning teams from state agencies in three major categories: Customer Service, Efficiency and Process Improvement, and Innovation. DNS was given the award in the Innovation category.

MDC Director Sara Parker Pauley spoke at the awards ceremony, hailing Discover Nature Schools as a flagship of MDC.  

“Each and every one of these team members are passionately committed to ensuring Missourians understand and appreciate nature,” Pauley said. “We want to ensure that future generations get to experience all that nature has to offer.”

MDC initiated Discover Nature Schools in 2006 as a sixth-grade science unit. It has now grown into a PreK-12-grade program that implements Missouri-focused nature education in 90 percent of state school districts. The DNS team has partnered with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to meet Missouri Learning Standards. Missouri is the first state to launch such a comprehensive, science program.

MDC provides participating schools all materials for the program, including illustrated student study books, comprehensive teacher guides with outdoor activities and lesson plans, grants for field trips to discover nature and nature exploration equipment, and free professional development from MDC education consultants.

The program is administered through MDC’s Outreach and Education Division. Division Chief Jeff Cockerham praised the DNS team, including its 16 education consultants, for its ongoing work helping students and teachers discover nature.

“The team works diligently to provide a hands-on and age-appropriate learning program that teaches students about Missouri’s native plants, animals, and habitats,” Cockerham said. “DNS truly helps foster an appreciation and understanding of nature and wildlife and gets kids excited about the outdoors. It’s a win for students, teachers, and conservation.”

MDC Education Outreach Coordinator Stephanie McKinney added that DNS helps improve students’ overall health and focus.

“Spending time in activities outside in nature helps students’ mental and physical well-being,” McKinney noted. “Research shows that time spent outdoors in nature helps improve test scores and reduces attention-deficit problems and other behavioral challenges.”

More than half a million students have completed DNS units. The groundbreaking program now serves as a model for other state conservation agencies. For more information on MDC’s Discover Nature Schools Program, visit MDC online at