The Ozark Natural Science Center in Huntsville is just months away from closing its school program, a program that`s taught local students about nature for more than 20 years.
Since its opening in 1992, the center has hosted thousands of students who come to the science program to explore and discover.
“We think we have had about 45,000,” said Jenny Harmon, the center's executive director.
Harmon said 20 staff members will lose their jobs come May.
"That was really hard because we have had some field instructors and employees here that have been here for 14 or 15 years, and they love it. They are here because they love what they're doing," said Harmon.
“Kids come out here and they discover things in such different ways. It`s hands-on," said Dondi Frisinger, principal at Walker Elementary in Springdale. "The people that are our guides are such masters in their field...You can’t just provide that in the classroom.”
Frisinger and students were at the center Wednesday, visiting for the last time.
"It’s sad, and I was driving down the road (when) I thought, this is the last time I'll do this and I put my stuff in the lodge,” Frisinger said.
She has been bringing fifth grade students to the center for 16 years and said it’s an experience that some kids have never gotten.
“They walk through these thresholds of life that some of them have never done before, like staying overnight someplace before without their parents," Frisinger said.
Officials at the Ozark Natural Science Center just can't afford to keep the program going, Harmon said.
Students raise money throughout the year to visit the center, but Harmon said the amount collected from schools is not enough to keep the center open.
“We charge the schools a fee per student to come, but that fee we charge, we’ve tried to keep it at a level to where the schools can afford to send their fifth graders," Harmon said. "But it has become increasingly difficult.”
The program costs $134 per student; a price Harmon says is low enough for schools to afford. But the costs to keep the center open amount to much more than that.
Frisinger said students get hands-on experience with nature, something you can`t teach in the classroom.
"The kids learn about creek critters, so they pull different live critters out of some water samples, and they discover through looking at them and identifying them, what critter are they looking at. And is that a sign that the water is polluted or not?" Frisinger said. "But kids come to those determinations all on their own without a teacher just telling them."