By Robert Medley
Senior Staff Writer
Wildlife biologist Laurie Gillum has been teaching youth about nature for most of her teaching career at a private northwest Oklahoma City school.
King’s Gate Christian School, located inside Surrey Hills Baptist Church at the southwest corner of Northwest Expressway and Mustang Road, emphasizes citizen science and nature preservation on their campus.
Gillum envisioned an outdoor classroom six years ago and has worked with her students and their families to build it.
Gillum instills the love of nature in students at an early age. The outdoor classroom, called the Wonderground, features a state and federally protected wetlands, a pollinator garden, and a 16-foot observation deck under a canopy of trees, and a rock circle study space.
The pollinator garden was designated a Monarch butterfly waystation three years ago. Gillum, the school’s science teacher for 24 years, walked into the nature area near the playground that backs up to a tributary of a creek just west of Mustang Road. It winds amid tall trees and heavy undergrowth, too dense to see anything but a wall of nature.
The creek was dry. But a painted lady butterfly was spotted.
“It took me four years to build this, what I call phase one,” Gillum said. “We got here. This had been a vision at our campus. I looked out here and I saw wetlands and I said, ‘There it is.’”
Students helped design the pollinator garden. The vernal pond, part of the protected wetlands, is a breeding area for amphibians including green frogs and American toads. The tiger salamander is known to the Okarche and Piedmont area.
“We have seen them, but we don’t really have them breeding there,” Gillum said.
Students routinely observe bird and Monarch migrations.
“This part of Oklahoma is a major highway for Monarchs,” Gillum said.
Students help Gillum maintain the Wonderground where they learn to conserve natural resources and care for creation.
“Elementary students are on fire to learn. They pass that on to their families and when they are in middle school this message of natural world protection, creation protection, gets out a lot faster because they are so excited,” she said.
KING’S GATE EXPANSION
The school enrollment was up for the first day Wednesday, Aug. 17. The school added 70 families this year. Last year there were 181 students at the Surrey Hills campus, this year there are 208.
“We’ve been growing every year,” said Angie Steedman, communications director.
Expansion is expected especially with the population continuing to move into eastern Canadian County. State tax credits are ahead for private schooling.
“Now that there is a new tax credit it is going to make it more affordable for families,” Steedman said. “And I think the public schools are getting way too big. Families that are Christian families are finding that they don’t have a voice.”
“We’re bursting at the seams essentially,” Gillum said. “I used to teach 50 kids. Now I teach about 140 preschool through 5th grade students, so that gives you an idea.”
King’s Gate Development Director Corky Eshelman talked about what is on the horizon for the school.
“Our vision right now is that we are really in the process of trying to acquire more property,” Eshelman said.
King’s Gate also has a campus within the Village Baptist Church at Hefner and May in northwest Oklahoma City. It serves students age one through Kindergarten.