By David Lavis, National Wildlife Federation
At the National Wildlife Federation, we know that nature nurtures. Since 1973, the National Wildlife Federation’s Schoolyard Habitat® Program has promoted creation of certified Schoolyard Wildlife Habitats in schools all across America. These school gardens are learning laboratories and outdoor classrooms where students engage in active, hands-on learning as they design, plant, and tend gardens. In the process, kids discover and connect with nature and, sometimes, even with themselves.
One teacher’s experience at Lanier Middle School in Fairfax County, VA, is especially moving. A troubled young student was living in a homeless shelter—his mother dead, father in jail, and sister a drug addict. He was smart but disengaged from the learning process. He was showing up at school sporadically but not participating.
The discerning teacher put him to work in the garden, where he joined her every day after school to clear weeds, plant native plants, apply mulch, and more. The student had never planted a thing before, and over time he became more open and communicative. They talked about his life and about his goals and future. He gradually came alive through working in the garden and started to engage with his teachers and peers. He began to excel. He went from being a failing student to earning straight A's, all because of a caring teacher and that Schoolyard Habitat.
This student’s story is mirrored in schools across the country. The National Wildlife Federation currently has 5,100 certified Schoolyard Wildlife Habitats, making it the single largest school gardening program in America. More than a million students and 22,000 teachers tend and enjoy these gardens in schools in every state. There is no question that these school gardens impart lasting benefits. Research shows that humans are innately drawn to nature, and that contact with other living things has enduring positive mental health and social benefits. The National Wildlife Federation has found that participation in these school garden experiences, especially for urban youth who might not otherwise be exposed to nature, has a tremendous effect on children’s connection with the earth and how they view themselves in relation to the environment.
Support from National Wildlife Federation members and generous gifts from federal employees via the CFC campaign make it possible for the National Wildlife Federation (CFC# 10622) to grow the number of Schoolyard Wildlife Habitats across the nation and implement other environmental education programs, such as National Wildlife Federation Eco-Schools USA. This schoolwide program helps K-12 schools model environmentally sound practices and provides support for greening the curriculum and enhancing students’ academic achievement. Our goal is to reach as many students as possible, to instill a curiosity and reverence for wildlife - connecting them to nature, one garden at a time.
To learn more about National Wildlife Federation and their Schoolyard Wildlife Habitat program, visit them at www.nwf.org!