The Schoolyard Garden and Habitat progam, serves high school students with specific learning disabilities. The project is designed to provide academic and life experiences for these students through environmental, ecological, and specific core curriculum activities. The objectives are: 1) the students learn specific core curriculum standards in a direct fashion, as opposed to only abstract classroom learning, 2) the students learn related functional skills in the areas of reading, language arts, math, science, social studies, life skills, and technology, 3) the students learn skills necessary for the transition from their school life into adult life. The project teaches students in the areas of language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and life skills both in the classroom and within the garden/habitat. Each student's Individual Educational Plan (IEP) is used as a guide for work in the classroom. Additional guides for the habitat work are presented at the beginning of each in-field activity, and they parallel the class work previously accomplished.
The project is two-fold, housing a study area within a garden in the front of the school, and a larger wildlife habitat bordering a small, native woodlands on the periphery of the school grounds. In the front garden, the predominant theme perennials allow a natural habitat for butterflies, humming-birds, insects, and small mammals. The parallel habitat creates a fuller, broad-based environment for studying an all-inclusive range of academic disciplines. Study areas are continuously created for vegetable, herb, bulb, and perennial gardens; native grass plots; native shade plant and succession areas; wildflower, butterfly and hummingbird gardens; a compost heap; erosion control and weather study area; native berried and flowering bushes and trees. Brush, wood, and rock piles are created as habitats for small animals, reptiles, and insects. A recirculating pond will be placed within the rock pile to be used by birds and small mammals. There are ample opportunities to study a natural and native environment within the habitat.
Initially, a student proposal was submitted by the coordinating teacher to the school's administration in order to solicit a secure planting space. The Internet is used to locate favorable businesses for donations, and national mentors. Follow-up correspondences and thank you notes are regularly sent. Community merchants are consistently approached and have subsequently become actively involved and supportive of the students efforts. Donated seeds, plants, and tools are cataloged, organized, and housed within a donated storage shed as well as in the classroom. Scale, grid-maps of the garden are continuously graphed by the students at each phase of development. Soil and beds are prepared, existing shrubs are relocated for more appropriate placement, perennials and window boxes are planted, and additional, donated rose bushes have been added. Subsequent student maintenance efforts include continuous planting, thinning and relocating perennials, mulching, weeding, watering, and general garden/habitat maintenance and care. A library and environmental study area is located within the classroom for academic research. Informational posters are displayed, as are completed student projects. The schoolyard garden and habitat is also registered with the National Wildlife Federation and the Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education's Coalition for Schoolyard Habitat.
The process of fund raising for this long-term project is on-going. Contact, for information and monetary purposes, is maintained with school administrators, parents, local merchants, and mentors through personal contact, letter writing, and online. The Internet is also used to gain additional funding from available grants and nation-wide donating businesses. Two local newspapers and one local television network were notified of the project, culminating in each advertising the students efforts and positive community benefits of this undertaking. A local corporation has taken an interest in the project and donated the equipment shed. Two grants were earned from national organizations.
The project began three years ago. It was initially created by the students as a small perennial garden, utilizing as many native plant varieties as possible, within the parameters of the donations received. With it's success, it snowballed into an additional, tangential, large-scale schoolyard habitat. Since its inception, the garden/habitat was created, embellished and copiously maintained by the students. Summer maintenance is undertaken by the coordinating teacher who is supported by the school's grounds crew. After each habitat undertaking, the students complete an environmental time sheet which requires documenting one's name, date, task and/or activity, and the amount of time spent working in the habitat. These are reviewed at the end of each month. Students earn rewards for their efforts. Portfolios are maintained throughout the year. A plastic portfolio is given to each student. In it, they file the best example of each major assignment completed. Portfolios are graded at year's end, and they are used for subsequent employment pursuits. Teamwork, respect for others, and the ability to collaborate on a given task is addressed through competition. Teams are created with each having a similar assignment. The teams compete against each other in order to complete the task. Both teams are graded on universal performance. The winning team is rewarded. Rewards are individually awarded at specific intervals. The intervals are dependent upon the length of the assignment. Students earning rewards do so because of their ability to stay on task, work independently and/or appropriately with others, and complete the task to the best of their ability. The culminating experiences and end of year rewards include a visit to a local nursery, and a pizza party for all the working habitat students.
The students have earned support for their efforts from a variety of sources. These include the school's administration, other students and teachers, the grounds crew, community members, local and national merchants, local and national organizations, the press and media. Community assistance was gained from the publication of articles about the habitat placed in two local newspapers, direct contact with the individuals and groups mentioned, and through word of mouth. The physical placement of the SGHP allows easy access for those individuals immediately involved in the project as well as interested teachers, parents and community members donating time to assist in it's continued activities.
The National Gardening Association
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