Sunny is a 2-year-old bald eagle which was recently transferred to her forever home at Nature’s Classroom from the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. (Photo credit: Cheryl Merz.)

Nature’s Classroom, an outdoor environmental education center that is part of Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS), recently welcomed three raptors to the center, welcomed the public to its annual open house and has begun open registration for summer camps.

For over 50 years, Nature’s Classroom has provided environmental education and outdoor exploration to HCPS students. The lessons leave a lasting impression, which is why the center holds a yearly open house. Program coordinator Karen Johnson said it started the open house event to allow alumni to return and visit with their families.

“We are, or have been, the standard for environmental education throughout the state for many, many years.” Johnson said. “It’s super, super important that we continue to encourage outdoor time with unstructured exploration of the natural world around us.”

This year’s open house took place on April 13 and 14 with around 2,500 people in attendance. Attendees enjoyed guided hikes, shoreline sampling, animal experiences and access to 365 natural acres.

Visitors also had an opportunity to see and learn about the center’s three new raptors: a bald eagle, a Mississippi kite and a swallow-tailed kite.

Sunny, a 2-year-old bald eagle that was transferred from the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, found her home at Nature’s Classroom on April 8. STKI (Sticky) and MIKI (Mickey), a swallow-tailed kite and Mississippi kite, respectively, also moved in during early April. Cheryl Merz, raptor care assistant for Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, trained Sunny and secured all three birds being transferred to Nature’s Classroom.

“I am thrilled to see Sunny thrive in her forever home. She is teaching children about bald eagles and conservation. She is the ultimate education ambassador for her species,” Merz said.

Johnson said Nature’s Classroom’s current funds are targeted to refurbish the aviary. Nature’s Classroom, in partnership with Southwest Florida Water Management District, focuses its curriculum on ecosystem exploration. Visitors are also introduced to the center’s Florida native garden and animal collection.

Nature’s Classroom welcomes organizations (school, church, Scouts and businesses) to visit for educational reasons or an outdoor meeting. To schedule a visit or to support financially, contact Johnson at 813-978-6969.

Visit to learn about 2024 summer camps, educational resources and facts on the resident animals. Nature’s Classroom is located at 13100 Verges Rd. in Thonotosassa.

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