Discovery Hill—A Schoolyard Habitat Proof of Concept

from Wildlife Promise

Ashley Gutierrez and Alexis Cody use a boulder to write their observations.

Ashley Gutierrez and Alexis Cody use a boulder to write their observations.

On the way back to school one girl in my class said, “What fun…I love that place” and another said “I wish we could go everyday” and a boy remarked, “I just didn’t know we could find so many animals.” I appreciate your ability to scaffold down to our level. Building a solid foundation starts in pre-k. It is truly an amazing example of an outdoor learning area!

Discovery_Hill_compareSo read a recent email from Ms. McMillan, a pre-K teacher at Matthews Elementary School in Austin ISD, thanking the Outdoor Learning Specialist at Discovery Hill for their field trip. Discovery Hill is a special place. The new demonstration schoolyard habitat at the Austin ISD, made possible by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), has not only transformed a once barren hill side into a haven for wildlife and learning opportunities, but it also represents a proof of concept.

In 2010, Toyota USA funded the National Wildlife Federation for a 2- year project, the primary purpose of which was to help institutionalize outdoor learning and the creation of outdoor classrooms to help improve student engagement and understanding in science – the greening of the school grounds, the curriculum and the student experience. While outdoor learning is critical, it is often perceived as something a school district does not have the resources to do. Our partnership with Toyota USA Foundation made it possible for AISD to explore more fully the benefits of outdoor education and classrooms for their students.

We started the program by passing funds through to AISD to hire an outdoor learning specialist who would help align NWF’s Habitat curriculum to the district and state science standards, develop habitat based curriculum, and assist teachers with implementing the curriculum. NWF facilitated the implementation of 22 schoolyard habitats in the district and provided PD for over 100 science teachers. Discovery Hill, the final phase of the project is a model school yard habitat/outdoor classroom at the district’s Science and Health Resource Center where all AISD Science teachers receive professional development. It is also a field trip destination for AISD and surrounding districts.

After 3 years, and a positive evaluation of the program by AISD Research and Evaluation Department, AISD has taken on full funding of the Outdoor Learning Specialist position and Discovery Hill is thriving. AISD has also committed to working with National Wildlife Federation to implement its Eco-Schools USA  program district wide and is thrilled to have such a great example of the School Grounds Pathway. To learn more about Discovery Hill please visit: RockstoRoots.wordpress.com

Amalia Espinoza, Raymond Sierra, Jaelon Lopez—students at Pleasant Hill Elementary—search the cactus for bugs!

Amalia Espinoza, Raymond Sierra, Jaelon Lopez—students at Pleasant Hill Elementary—search the cactus for bugs!