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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGION: Schoolyard Habitat Program Attends the National Green Schools Conference

Region 8, April 30, 2013
The ideas and partnerships are so energizing and enthusiastic that the conversations last long after the concurrent sessions are over and the exhibits are closed.
The ideas and partnerships are so energizing and enthusiastic that the conversations last long after the concurrent sessions are over and the exhibits are closed. - Photo Credit: n/a

By Carolyn Kolstad

In the bustling rooms of the West Palm Beach Convention center nearly 1,200 people gathered to learn, share and solve the best ways to give students around the country the greenest environment to learn in, by actively engaging in the 3rd Annual National Green Schools Conference. While many of the conversations centered around how to improve the inside of the school buildings, the focus of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s contributions were beyond those walls and out into the schoolyards.

The Service contributed staff time and monetary resources to help support this year’s conference in an effort to build new and innovative partnerships throughout the country, and  to engage schools in a national dialogue about how the Schoolyard Habitat Program can have a lasting impact on students’ knowledge and attitudes about environmental resources.

Increasingly, research is demonstrating the benefits that greenspace can provide to children’s health and well-being and to environmental quality (e.g., reduced urban runoff and moderation of climate). However, the average schoolyard which is about 68% of the whole school property is dominated by turf grass and impervious surface, with very little tree cover (on average less than 10%). The negative effects of these stark landscapes are captured in children’s attitudes towards themselves, their peers and the environment. The Service’s Schoolyard Habitat Program aims to change the current landscape and increase the environmental and health benefits associated by increased greenspace by restoring native habitats on school-grounds.

In an ongoing partnership since 2008, Service staff, the University of Wisconsin-Arboretum and Willow Oak Group LLC, created a national network to share current research and program methodologies through presentations, workshops and exhibits throughout the country to engage as many participants as possible in the action. 

It was evident the strategies worked. Jim McGrath, President of the Green Schools National Network said “Your sessions were some of the most well attended sessions here.” Over 100 people stopped and visited our exhibit, where they had the chance to become part of the national network by placing a star on our map showing which Landscape Conservation Cooperative their school was in.

We look forward to having the conference in the Pacific Southwest Region next March, right here in Sacramento.

Carolyn Kolstad is the Schoolyard Habitat Program Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest Region in Auburn, Calif.

Contact Info: Pam Bierce, 916-414-6542, pamela_bierce@fws.gov