The Austin Independent School District, the National Wildlife Federation and community volunteers recently broke ground on a district-wide, science lab and classroom that will feature plants and materials native to Central Texas and learning stations that will connect AISD students with nature.
“Schoolyards are the perfect locations to install accessible vegetable gardens, loop trails, wildlife habitats, nature-based play areas, nature preserves, and more,” said Anne Muller, the district’s Outdoor Learning Specialist. “There are a lot of ways that children learn and play outside and the schoolyard can be seen as an extension of the indoor classroom.”
Located on approximately ¼-acre of land adjacent to Pleasant Hill Elementary, the demonstration site will offer students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a living laboratory. In addition to creating a community environment for field trips, the habitat will provide professional development opportunities for science teachers who are interested in gaining training in outdoor education and field investigation
The new model habitat—developed by the district’s science curriculum department, Environmental Survey Consulting and the NWF—is an important addition to AISD’s outdoor classrooms and science labs. During the past two years, 18 schoolyard habitats have been developed at Bailey, Bedichek, Burnet, Covington, Garcia, Fulmore, Gorzycki, Martin, Murchison, O. Henry, and Webb middle schools, as well as at Brooke, Dawson, Ortega, Paredes, Rodriguez, Widen and Zavala elementary schools. The project was funded by the National Wildlife Federation, who received grants from the Toyota USA foundation, 3M and HEB.
“Our goal in implementing schoolyard habitats on a district-wide level has always been to foster a sense of institutional commitment to the project, which means keeping the habitats alive, promoting their use with teachers, and getting students outside and connected with their natural world more often,” said Susan Kaderka, Regional Executive Director for the National Wildlife Federation. “This partnership with AISD on a showcase demonstration habitat means we are closer to making this a reality than ever before.”