U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Sacramento Fish & Wildlife OfficeServing the people, conserving the fish, wildlife, and plants of California

A Unit Of The Pacific Southwest Region

Students Get Hands-on with Wildlife through Schoolyard Habitats

May 23, 2017

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Student Daniel Norris is one of many Caleb Greenwood Elementary School students who helped establish the schoolyard habitat. Photo Credit: Jennifer Norris.
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The schoolyard habitat provided an opportunity to educate neighbors who mistook grasslands for overgrown weeds. Photo credit: Karleen Vollherbst.
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Students were engaged in every phase of establishing the schoolyard habitat and continue to utilize the space as an outdoor classroom. Photo credit: Karleen Vollherbst.
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Photo of student learing about native plants and wildlife.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service funds schools across the country to establish schoolyard habitats for students to learn about native plants and wildlife. Photo credit: Karleen Vollherbst.
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Schoolyard habitats offer many teaching and learning opportunities in English, science, mathematics, history, geography, social studies and art. Photo credit: Karleen Vollherbst.
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Students selected the plant species for Caleb Greenwood’s habitat based on the type of wildlife they wanted to attract, which included pollinators and songbirds. Photo credit: Karleen Vollherbst.

When you ask Americans why they care about conservation, many cite the importance of protecting species and habitats for future generations. Unfortunately, families face a number of barriers that make it more and more challenging to get outdoors with their children and grandchildren to explore and learn about nature. Recognizing the importance of connecting children to nature, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) funds schools throughout the nation to establish schoolyard wildlife habitats. One shining example of the Service’s Schoolyard Habitat Program is the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office’s (SFWO) partnership with Caleb Greenwood Elementary School in Sacramento, California. SFWO provided technical assistance on habitat design, development, and ongoing maintenance. According to Caleb Greenwood Teacher Anna Symkowick-Rose, "The biologists were right there next to the kids when they planted, so they were helping them get out the plants, showing them how to take care of the roots, how to keep the plants high—just right there physically with them. It was really cool. They were able to tell us how big the plants would get and whether or not they would do well in the location we chose, so it was good."

photo of Daniel Norris

Student Daniel Norris is one of many Caleb Greenwood Elementary School students who helped establish the schoolyard habitat. Photo Credit: Jennifer Norris.

In 2014, the school received funding from the Service to establish the wildlife habitat, including native grassland and woodland habitat, along with a butterfly garden. The commitment from students, teachers, and parents has been key to the sustainability of Caleb Greenwood’s project. According to the Service’s Schoolyard Habitat Program Coordinator Karleen Vollherbst, sustainability is a must. "What we really want to see from schools and why we do these projects at schools is for long-term use and stewardship. So, in the planning process we’re really looking at how are schools going to use this project in the future, how are they going to maintain it, sustain it, and use it with their students. With this school that was really evident, there were parents involved, there were teachers involved, the students got involved—we want students to be involved in the planning process."

Students were engaged in every phase of the project and continue to utilize the space as an outdoor classroom. "They just love it—they think it’s beautiful, they love being in it. They always find things and show me. . . It’s really helping them look at wildlife. It helps them get excited about learning. They just get to see so much more as a result of having this in our school that they wouldn’t get to see," said Symkowick-Rose.

The Schoolyard Habitat Program allows teachers to enhance the existing curriculum and gives students the opportunity to witness the relationship between plants and wildlife firsthand. Students selected the plant species for Caleb Greenwood’s habitat based on the type of wildlife they wanted to attract. Pollinators and songbirds were a priority for the students, with a special emphasis on butterflies.

Photo of student learing about native plants and wildlife.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service funds schools across the country to establish schoolyard habitats for students to learn about native plants and wildlife. Photo credit: Karleen Vollherbst.

Symkowick-Rose leveraged the funding the Service provided with funding from the California Fertilizer Foundation, Sacramento Creeks Council, the Parent Teacher Student Organization, and Jamba Juice, to support the schoolyard habitat and a school garden. After three years, the 6,500 square feet schoolyard habitat at Caleb Greenwood is well established—plants have matured, and the target species have moved in. Affectionately referred to by students as "Miss Anna The Garden Lady," her plans for the schoolyard habitat include enhancing learning opportunities by educating students about mulching, drip irrigation, and native plants. Over the summer, Symkowick-Rose looks after the habitat with student and parents gathering in August to resume habitat maintenance in preparation for the fall.

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by Veronica Davison / SFWO External Affairs

Last updated: January 3, 2018