By Brian Zahn, New Haven Register

NEW HAVEN >> When Worthington Hooker, Columbus Family Academy and Barnard Environmental Magnet School unveiled schoolyard habitats in 2014, it was just a taste of what was to come.

Kindergartner Itzel Rodriguez, 6, left, and seventh grader Erika Velasquez, 13, with the help of their school principal Heriberto Cordero, cut the ribbon during a ceremony celebrating a new schoolyard habitat at the Fair Haven School. Peter Hvizdak/hearst connecticut media

After two ribbon-cutting events at the Fair Haven and Davis Street schools in June, there are 10 of these schoolyard habitats in the Elm City and 21 total in the state of Connecticut.

Suzannah Holsenbeck, the schoolyard habitat program manager at Common Ground High School, said the program is a partnership between the environmentally focused charter school, Audubon Connecticut, applicant schools and community partners to provide safe, sustainable, green spaces at urban schools for learning purposes. And it has grown in scope since the very first ribbon cuttings.

“The word is out: this is a good program and people know you can create an awesome outdoor educational space,” she said.

Each fall, schools apply for grant funding, a process that has become very competitive, Holsenbeck said.

“This is very mission-driven for us. We want to expand urban students’ accessibility to green spaces,” she said. “When you start exposing students at a young age to what it means to learn and to be outside in a capacity other than recess, you’re teaching attitudes and empowering students to change their environment.”

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