The Wild Class

Recent studies show that students achieve more academically when the environment is integrated into their curriculum. There are well over 1,300 certified National Wildlife Federation Schoolyard Habitat in the United States.

May 2, 2005 - By Melissa Mathis

"In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught."

-Baba Dioum

For more information on creating a wildlife habitat at your school, contact:

Katrina Macht
Hillside School
844 Brown Road, Bridgewater, NJ 08807
(908) 231-1905 ext. 307

Mary Rita Prah
Oakridge School
1414 South 24th Street, Arlington, VA 22202
Phone: (703) 228-8165;
e-mail:
mrprah@tmail.arlington.k12.va.us

Julie Totaro,
Schoolyards Habitats Program Coordinator,
National Wildlife Federation,
11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston, VA 20190;
Phone: (800) 822-9199
e-mail: totaro@nwf.org

 

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In January of 2000, Oakridge Elementary school in Arlington County, VA, became the first school in their county to earn the National Wildlife Federation's Schoolyard Habitat distinction. NWF Certification garners National media recognition; all participating schools are linked in a network that enables students to learn and collaborate on their wildlife projects. All 50 states have now brought the wildlife into their curriculum by participating in the NWF's program. It provides teachers with training to work with their students on creating and learning from the habitats they construct on school grounds. More than 1,300 schools have received certification by the NWF. They are given an attractive schoolyard habitat sign to post. It signifies they've created a viable habitat.

To qualify for NWF certification prospects apply by detailing how their habitat successfully teaches the elements, and functions as an ecosystem. It becomes more than just a project when the habitat itself shelters the local wildlife.

Students draw the site map for the NWF application. It requires photographs, and a detailed account of how the site provides food and shelter for wildlife to thrive in the designated area. A plan is put together as a blueprint of the projects goal to achieve sustainability.

Team members are also listed. Students and teachers are vital to all school habitat projects, but parents and community members often pitch in. The involvement of a school administrative member is also customary.

Oakridge Elementary  stands out because recently, Arlington County began funding "Exemplary School Projects". These are nontraditional educational activities for students.

The first project was named Planet Earth Trek. Students built a trail to a neighboring middle school, with a bridge over a wetland, and benches beside the stream that ran over the hill between the two schools.

Recent studies show that students achieve more academically when the environment is integrated into their curriculum. The NWF's training for the schoolyard habitats program was originally a year-long endeavor, but it has now been reduced to a two-day training held in one of NWF's nine regional offices. The program was originally founded under a different premise in 1973. It was the Backyard habitats program. As interests grew in school systems nationwide to create and restore habitats firsthand, the program was adapted for schools as the Schoolyard Habitats Program in 1996.

Since revamping the program, participating students have built freshwater marshes, and stopped soil erosion on school grounds by creating gardens that attract butterflies, vegetable gardens, and native plant gardens.

"NWF offers a Schoolyard Habitats Kit ($14.95) with a Planning Guide and other resources to schools starting a habitat project. To order a kit, phone (716) 461-3092. The application fee for certification is $14.95; once certified, schools can order the Schoolyard Habitat sign for $28. See the NWF website: www.nwf.org/habitat for more resources". (Read More)

2006 Greenspan
Photo and design credits: 2006 John Chiappone