Connecting Austin’s Youth with Nature and Wildlife

The National Wildlife Federation works with educators across the country to introduce the next generation of conservationists to nature and the wildlife that call it home. The Federation was one of many partner organizations that worked with the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department and Austin Independent School District this year to make Barrington Elementary the first “Green School Park” in Austin.

Research has proven that nature serves as a factor in stress reduction for students, in addition to increasingly the likelihood that these children will grow into adults who understand positive actions they can take to protect wildlife. The “Green School Park” pilot was launched as part of the Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) project that began with a grant received in 2016 from The National League of Cities and the Children & Nature Network to increase equitable access to nature within cities. There are now 18 cities around the country involved in CCCN projects. Let’s learn about this incredible win for children and wildlife in Austin:

Partnerships in Action

The CCCN team in Austin developed a community and data-driven survey to identify areas of the city with a green spaces deficit. Three schools (Barrington, Wooldridge, and Cook Elementary) in the Rundberg area of North Austin were determined to be in the focus range and will ultimately become “Green School Parks” that serve as an outdoor classroom, play area, and recreational space for members of the community during out-of-school hours.

Eco-schools sign amid native plant garden

Pollinator garden at Barrington Elementary. Photo: Georgian Acres Neighborhood Association.

Through the implementation of our regional Monarch Heroes Program and in partnership with the City of Austin Watershed Department, National Wildlife Federation has helped a team of Barrington teachers and their students transform a previously underutilized open space on campus into a pollinator-focused rain garden. This garden provides critical native milkweed and nectar plants for the monarch butterfly, whose population has plummeted by more than 90 percent in the past 20 years. The space will also serve as an outdoor learning center for the entire school to build awareness and help reverse the butterflies’ decline.

Seeing the Difference in Students

2nd grade Barrington teacher, Victoria Reyna, commented on how the Monarch Heroes Program has benefited her students and teaching methods:

“I can honestly say that Monarch Heroes has played an instrumental part in the increase of my student’s love of learning, while also decreasing the amount of behavioral issues in my classroom. I have been able to extend my students’ learning outside of the classroom walls and into the gardens for all subject areas. I have also noticed that my students are more aware of the effects of the decline in the population of pollinators on our community and the greater world, and are eager to make a positive impact. We feel so proud that we are helping the Monarch butterfly and other pollinators in our community for a greater cause.”

1st grade teacher, Elisa Sandoval, has also brought monarch recovery work directly into her lesson plans.

“When we go outside, they observe plants, animals and the sky. They talk about their observations and ask questions. When we were working on our Science Project the students were amazed about the monarch butterfly’s migration. It changed the way I teach because I want my students to learn not just from lessons like reading and writing but also learning from opportunities to explore nature.”

Barren Schoolyard to Wildlife Oasis

Monarch caterpillar in Barrington garden

Monarch caterpillar spotted in the garden. Photo by NWF staff

Since the implementation of the gardens and other green features, Barrington Elementary has been a host to a number of wildlife species. Birds like cardinals, mockingbirds, doves, blue jays, and even hawks are finding homes in the school’s green spaces. Butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators can be found buzzing throughout the gardens.

The new habitat features on campus benefit not only the local wildlife, but student health and education, and the community.

National Wildlife Federation celebrates its ability to help Barrington Elementary transform to a Green School Park, now equipped with a new play space, a meandering walkway, new trees, an herb garden, and the pollinator-focused rain garden. NWF’s education staff continue to support the school through participating in garden workdays and community events such as the Barrington Dedication Celebration, and Barrington Park Family Fun Saturdays.

This initiative by Cities Connecting Children to Nature project helps city leaders and their partners, like National Wildlife Federation, ensure that all children have the opportunity to play, learn, grow, and thrive in nature.

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