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CARLSBAD FWO: Let’s Plant that Habitat!
California-Nevada Offices , January 3, 2012
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Expanse of habitat at Capri Elementary
Expanse of habitat at Capri Elementary - Photo Credit: USFWS
Students proudly identify their plant
Students proudly identify their plant - Photo Credit: USFWS
Planting takes team work
Planting takes team work - Photo Credit: USFWS

By Stephanie Weagley, Carlsbad FWO

Kindergartners through sixth graders at Capri Elementary School in Encinitas, California, have transformed approximately 1.5 acres of land into native habitat that will double as an Outdoor Learning Lab. This area, once consisting of crab grass, palms, weeds, and other non-native plants, now contains water-wise native California plants that provide food, water, and shelter for butterflies, bugs, small animals, birds, and other wildlife.

What is unique about the location of this schoolyard habitat is that it surrounds the school’s soccer/physical education field, and is part of a community park open to the public on weekends. Visitors to the field and park will be able to enjoy the beauty and learn about the newly created native habitat. “During my first visit to the area in April 2011 with supporters of the project, I quickly realized the tremendous opportunity for transforming the area into native wildlife habitat and its use as an educational tool,” said Biologist Betty Grizzle of the Carlsbad Fish & Wildlife Service Office.

In 2011, Capri Elementary School’s Schoolyard Habitat Project was awarded over $5,500 through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Schoolyard Habitat Program. Additionally, the school received funds and in-kind contributions totaling approximately $16,000 from multiple partners and cooperators to help augment the native habitat restoration project.

The Schoolyard Habitat Program is designed to fill a specific niche that achieves the mission and goals of the school, the Service, and the community. It is a naturalized habitat area that is created by students, for students, and addresses multiple environmental and educational concepts that benefit everyone involved.

By late November 2011, “150 volunteers and over 500 kids helped make this project happen, and that includes about 2,000 hours invested thus far,” said Susan Addams, Capri Elementary Project Volunteer Coordinator. “This was a team effort that involved the support and dedication of the school, parents, teachers, and numerous community partners.”

This Schoolyard Habitat Project has been integrated into Capri’s bilingual (English and Spanish) and standard curriculums to encourage long-term environmental stewardship. The environmental education curriculum will integrate science, English-language arts, selected children’s literature, and student projects designed to enhance the environment and prepare students to become future scientists, economists, and green technology leaders.

Before the students began planting in November, they learned about California native plants, started planning their vision of what the habitat would look like, and decided which types of plants should be selected in order to attract native bugs, birds, and butterflies with the guidance from teachers and parents. Additionally, the students began tracking the sun to help determine where to plant the different types of plant species; measuring and calculating the square footage for classes’ ‘zones’; and observing and counting the plants and various species that currently existed in their class zones’ habitat.

Beyond the initial planting phase, Capri Elementary students will maintain the restored habitat area, measure plant growth and record new animal species they observe. They will also continue to experience new challenges and learning opportunities such as studying water conservation, weather patterns and sponsoring younger classes by taking them on field trips through different habitat zones. As the plants grow and mature, so do the student’s opportunities.

One exciting learning opportunity to note will be when the students start creating websites for their plants so they can post information. Once their websites have been created, they will make smartphone bar code tags to attach to each plant.

“Visitors will then be able to scan the tags with their smartphones or iPAD’s and connect to the kids’ sites to learn more about each plant,” said Addams. “The online plant biology will also be in English and Spanish.”

This native habitat restoration project will be multi-purposeful for the students. Not only will it serve as an ongoing educational tool to teach environmental principles and concepts, it will serve as a sanctuary for some students during recess wishing to explore the nature trails and participate in exploratory activities built into the project. Additionally, the habitat will provide project opportunities for students to touch, harvest and even sell parts of plants as fundraisers to help support the program long term (i.e., cut flowers, grasses to weave into baskets, berries to crush, or scented leaves to sachet).

Since the project began, parents and teachers have already seen positive changes in the way students interact with nature. “Many students check on their plants regularly and are more respectful and protective of the area and their young plants,” said Addams. “There is a sense of pride and ownership.”


Contact Info: Stephanie Weagley, 805-644-1766, stephanie_weagley@fws.gov



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