Friday, August 10, 2012

Three Chapter Area Schools Embrace Audubon Schoolyard Habitat Program

Michelle Frankel and Taralynn Reynolds describe a program for children


King-Robinson Magnet School in New Haven and Melissa Jones Elementary School and Abraham Baldwin Middle School in Guilford are embracing the Audubon Schoolyard Habitat Program.

Melissa Jones students admire the Habitat Recognition sign that the school was awarded for its adoption of the Audubon At Home healthy habitat program.
The Audubon Schoolyard Habitat Program develops healthy schoolyard habitats for children and wildlife by providing schools with the guidance, training, and resources to create habitat for wildlife on the school grounds and integrate place-based nature education into the curriculum. The program is well aligned with the children and youth programmatic priorities at the schools. Access to a schoolyard habitat will provide all children at the school with access to nature on a daily basis and help them understand the connections between making healthy choices for themselves and for the environment. Activities will build skills in inquiry, observation, and math using experiential techniques, enabling children to be more successful at school. They will have the opportunity to work with adults, play leadership roles and make positive decisions by participating in the Garden Stewardship committee. Family education activities will provide opportunities for families to nurture and support children’s learning and encourage families to make healthy choices at home.

Place-based nature education is critical to the development of an environmentally aware citizenry. At a time when passive indoor activities and restrictions on outdoor play dominate children’s out-of-school time, youngsters have little direct experience in nature. There is an urgent need for place-based learning about the natural world, particularly in urban areas. Richard Louv documented the nationwide epidemic of “nature deficit disorder,” linking lack of nature exposure to rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. The American Association for the Advancement of Science urges teachers to take science out of the textbook and into reality.

Audubon Connecticut has been awarded a grant for $23,314 from the Carolyn Foundation to develop the Schoolyard Habitat Program at King-Robinson. The grant will expand on the three-year partnership Menunkatuck has had with King-Robinson to enable the establishment of a large wildlife meadow, development of a Schoolyard Habitat Educator’s Guide, teacher training, and field trips for the school children.Carolyn Foundation to develop the Schoolyard Habitat Program at King-Robinson. The grant will expand on the three-year partnership Menunkatuck has had with King-Robinson to enable the establishment of a large wildlife meadow, development of a Schoolyard Habitat Educator’s Guide, teacher training, and field trips for the school children.

This slope at King-Robinson Magnet School will be transformed into a meadow.
The Guilford schools have each received grants from the Guilford Fund for Education.

Melissa Jones school social worker Lorrie Shaw was awarded $3500 in 2011 and has used the funds to establish a native wildflower and shrub garden that was used by the K-4 students as part of their classwork. She was also able to purchase binoculars and field guides for the students to use. Melissa Jones was awarded the Audubon at Home Habitat Recognition Award for its commitment to establishing the school as a healthy habitat.


Baldwin science teacher Sue Kennedy received $3500 this year. With the help of students from the Guilford High School Ecology Club, a monoculture courtyard area has been transformed into a garden space with native perennials and fruit bearing shrubs. A sloped area that has been ignored and is overgrown with non-native plants will become a meadow with pollinator-friendly plants. Additionally, Sue will be purchasing binoculars and field guides.

This courtyard at Baldwin Middle School is being converted from a garden of day lilies to one with a variety of native perennials and fruit-bearing shrubs.
The courtyard garden is starting to take shape.

The Schoolyard Habitat Recognition Program addresses core content standards and outdoor environmental education provides the perfect format for students to improve their scientific inquiry skills. The students will have the opportunity to describe basic natural phenomena such as the seasonal changes in plants or the life cycle of insects found in the garden.

Melissa Jones students study plants and insects in the garden.
Students will be able to use the wildlife gardens to develop authentic research projects, such as examining factors that affect plant growth, seed preferences of birds at feeders, and parental care at nest boxes. Students will use the appropriate tools including hand lenses, binoculars, tape measures, and simple data collection sheets. Students could have ‘magic spots’ where they go every week to observe seasonal changes of the gardens. Such hands-on experiences encourage students to set questions for themselves rather than simply to respond to questions set by teachers and engage in authentic research and learning experiences.

The Schoolyard Habitat gardens provide an outdoor learning space in which the students can improve their scientific inquiry skills
The first step in adopting the Audubon Schoolyard Habitat Program is an assessment of the school campus habitat followed by recommendations for making it more wildlife-friendly. Contact Taralynn Reynolds (treynolds@audubon.org) for more information about having your school become part of this exciting program.

Michelle Frankel is a Conservation Biologist and Taralynn Reynolds is the Audubon At Home Coordinator for Audubon Connecticut.

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