by Jill Keating Herbst, Common Ground

Where can New Haven’s kids learn about wildlife species and ecosystems, conduct class outdoors, experience nature up close, feed their curiosity and creativity, and expand their knowledge about the environment? A Schoolyard Habitat provides a natural oasis within our urban schools where kids can learn and explore.

Common Ground is working closely with Audubon CT, US Fish and Wildlife and New Haven Public Schools, with the support of Yale Peabody Museum, to create these engaging educational spaces. 

Check out the video below to learn more about what happened this past year at Columbus AcademyWorthington-Hooker, and Barnard schools.

This year and next, we will continue our work with our existing partner schools and are welcoming our latest schools chosen for the program: East Rock Community Magnet School and Edgewood Magnet School.

East Rock has a strong team that first came together to work on their edible garden project last year. They are excited for the hands-on learning opportunities that the habitat will create and eager to bring together the community on work days this spring. East Rock principal Peggy Pelley says of her school’s goals for the habitat project:

We hope to design a habitat that attracts migratory wildlife including songbirds, shorebirds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and more. Our goal would be for our schoolyard habitat to have a lasting impact on the local environment!

The Edgewood leadership team is pumped to connect the habitat restoration work they will do on their campus to other restoration work being done at Edgewood Park just across the street. Edgewood is looking forward to creating a safe and comfortable natural outdoor space for teachers to take their classes. Dana Holahan, a school parent and member of the Leadership Team, hopes that:

The Schoolyard Habitat, by improving our outdoor space, will also bring renewed energy to the school’s environment and will give us the opportunity to create some new traditions and events and offer outside meeting areas.

As school partners, East Rock and Edgewood will work this entire year on the design and installation of a native wildlife habitat on their school grounds. Each school has established a leadership team—parents, teachers, administrators, and other community members—who will plan and create the habitat. This team will then support the greater school community using it as an outdoor learning lab. Common Ground, Audubon CT and US Fish & Wildlife will work closely with the leadership team in this process and will also provide grant money toward the installation of the habitat.  Yale Peabody will support the schools in creating professional signage for their habitat. In addition, a crew of Common Ground high school students will assist each school in the installation of the habitat next spring.

Students from Worthington-Hooker School in New Haven work with Common Ground students on the installation of their Schoolyard Habitat. This year, East Rock and Edgewood will design and install a wildlife habitat on campus.

Students from Worthington-Hooker School in New Haven work with Common Ground students on the installation of their Schoolyard Habitat. This year, East Rock and Edgewood will design and install a wildlife habitat on campus.

In addition, teachers eager to use the outdoor learning space with their students will attend professional development workshops and collaborate with Audubon CT and Common Ground educators to integrate the wildlife habitat into existing curriculum.  Students will learn about native plants and wildlife, migrating birds, ecology and biodiversity all without leaving their urban schoolyard.SYHP

The Schoolyard Habitat program is part of a larger initiative, the New Haven Harbor Watershed Wildlife Refuge Partnership. This partnership began in 2013 and brings together community groups all over the city to improve or create wildlife habitat in schoolyards, vacant lots, city parks and other open space to establish an urban wildlife refuge. We are proud to be part of this partnership supporting schools to create safe outdoor learning spaces for students and improved habitat for local wildlife.