You may have heard some of the horror stories told by educators who come back from summer break only to find the schoolyard habitat changed or gone…vanished during the summer. One teacher told me she was dismayed to find the wonderful boxwood hedge, the one she used every fall to teach population dynamics (of insects), annihilated when she returned. Others have told how the temporary mobile classroom units (i.e. trailers) were placed over the garden areas, since these were now the flat spots on campus. There are also stories of school additions being planned right on the habitat areas- and this after years of work to build a natural area next to the school building.
How can these sad stories end? One way is to make it clear to everyone
that the schoolyard habitat is an important component of the curriculum. Here are a few ideas…please chime in with more:
- Include schoolyard habitat activities in the written school curriculum and/or pacing guides. Work with teacher teams to write these aspects of the curriculum in order to encourage participation by all.
- Include students in every aspect of the planning, design, and implementation of the habitat. It should feel like theirs when they come back to see it on weekends, during the summer or after they graduate from your school. Instilling a sense of ownership helps prevent vandalism.
- When planning the schoolyard habitat, have students write letters to the principal and maintenance director/crew, asking for permission and advice on where to place the garden. Ask them to meet with students as part of the planning process.
- Include parent volunteers (as suggested by Herb) in every aspect of the design and implementation of the habitat. Getting parents involved provides a sense of importance to the garden-based curriculum, especially during the summer months.
- Invite the superintendent, other school administrators, and members of the school board to events such as garden ribbon cuttings and habitat festivals. Have students share the content learned through the habitat program. The sharing process alone can teach writing, editing, and communication skills.
- Include signage in the habitat. The signage should make it clear that the habitat is a valuable part of the curriculum. Also, the signs should include directions about what is allowed such as picking, weeding, mowing, etc.
- On a regular basis, invite the press to do stories on the habitat area so that members of the community better understand and value the learning potential of a schoolyard habitat.
- Take lots of pictures and make sure everyone sees them- especially those with wonderful smiles on the faces of kids in the garden. Put the pictures on bulletin boards and if allowed, on the school website.