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Urban Gardens and Wildlife Habitats Are Flourishing in Schools Around the Country

From schoolyard gardens ripe with fruits and vegetables tended to by young hands, to wildlife habitat sanctuaries for Monarch butterflies, more schools around the country are developing a green thumb.

More than 5,000 elementary, middle, and high schools nationwide have taken efforts to transform part of their schoolyards into different types of wildlife habitats through a partnership with the National Wildlife Federation. It’s all part of plan to help reconnect children to the outdoors and educate them about the natural world around them. The nature habitats and wildflower gardens function as both a source of natural food as well as environments for various wildlife to thrive. It also gives students a chance to take learning outside the classroom and really see some of their environmental science lessons in action.

Suzannah Holsenbeck helps manage the schoolyard habitat at Common Ground High School in New Haven, Connecticut, and sees the urban oasis as a way to educate young people on the environment. “When you start exposing students at a young age to what it means to learn and to be outside in a capacity other than recess, you’re teaching attitudes and empowering students to change their environment,” Holsenbeck said.

Environmentalists have also worked with schools to help restore small pieces of land to what they might have looked like before being paved with asphalt. At Esperanza Elementary in Los Angeles, 4,000 square feet of the school’s concrete campus was developed into a nature habitat, providing students a glimpse of what the area looked like before it was settled.

The habitat’s plant life quickly attracted various insects which brought in different types of native bird species like the burrowing owl. For many students of the school, the habitat marked their first real exposure with nature. “It’s not natural around here for kids to come down from their apartments and walk down to the creek and play,” the school’s principal, Brad Rumble told The L.A. Times. “But if the neighborhood is lacking, at least the school campus can serve as a living laboratory.”

Other schools around the country are helping students to appreciate the work that goes into providing the fruits and vegetables that they eat through school gardens. Students at Lemon Avenue Elementary School in San Diego attend classes in the garden every other week where they tend to its 16 trees, flower beds and vegetable crops like cauliflower, kale and sweet peas. The gardens three caretakers help to teach the students about everything from how to successfully grow fruits like strawberries and peaches, to composting.

The gardens and natural habitat spaces not only function as a hands-on learning tool for students, but as a source of school pride. The garden at Lemon Avenue Elementary won $5,000 in a national competition with its “Saving the Monarchs” project. “There are a couple of kids who especially gravitate toward the garden,” the school’s principal, Natalie Martinez said. “This is the place they say they feel most connected to the school.”


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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