By Katie Blake, Audubon Connecticut Bird-Friendly Communities Manager
September 12, 2017 — Audubon Connecticut’s Schoolyard Habitat (SYH) Program is an initiative that develops healthy schoolyard habitats for both children and wildlife, integrates place-based environmental education into the school curriculum, and promotes environmentally-friendly practices for families at home. With the help of our SYH partners, the program’s primary focus is in urban communities, where schoolyards are often characterized by turf-grass lawns and asphalt, and within low-income neighborhoods that tend to have limited access to natural areas and disproportionately suffer the effects of poor water and air quality.
“An outdoor learning area is one of the best ideas I have heard of for a school…because kids get to experience learning in a new environment from being inside all day, everyday. The steps to making our garden what it is now were hard…I liked feeling that I was a part of something important that was going on and I felt happy doing it.” — Reflections from a New Haven Third Grade Student
In 2016-17, with the generous support of the Dalio Foundation, we significantly increased the number of participating schools across Connecticut and worked with the Stamford School District to integrate the SYH program district-wide. We also established innovative online tools and resources and strengthened the growing SYH Community of Practice through our SYH Leadership Summit and onsite workshops. Through these efforts, we trained more teachers and engaged thousands more students and their families in outdoor, standards-based, STEM learning and hands-on conservation, while maximizing project resources.
The SYH program is growing by leaps and bounds with far-reaching benefits, including:
- Creating a network of healthy habitat corridors and watersheds for migrating birds, other wildlife, and people
- Providing urban schoolchildren and their families with increased access to and appreciation for nature
- Providing hands-on, minds-on science learning opportunities for students
- Creating leadership opportunities for the next generation of conservationists
- Helping close the science achievement gap between students from low-income families and their more advantaged peers
- Building capacity within the school community for sustained environmental stewardship
As of August 2017, a total of 34 public and private schools in nine Connecticut cities participate in the SYH Program as full partners in the revitalization of their own communities. Children participating in the SYH Program, as well as adults that participate in stewardship or in our many outreach initiatives, improve their understanding of the value of urban green spaces and how their actions can make a difference. The program inspires students and their families to take action for the environment, as they engage in hands-on restoration projects in their schoolyards. In addition, our professional development opportunities for educators facilitates significant growth in their teaching skills and abilities.
“The benefits with [the Schoolyard Habitat Program] were great. Making students aware of the world around them and giving them a say in how to improve animal life, gave them respect and understanding that they didn't have before.” — Stamford Elementary School Teacher
The high demand for this program provides us with the opportunity to scale up our efforts, reaching more schools and people throughout the region. But, we can’t do it alone! If you are interested in supporting or partnering with us, please contact us. It’s through the support of generous donors and our dedicated partners, we are able to continue to grow and enhance our program resources for the benefit of people, wildlife, and watershed health.