Quinnipiac STEM Unveils Schoolyard Habitat

Serena Cho PhotoWith the help of 50 students, parents and community partners, Quinnipiac Real World Math STEM School unveiled a new schoolyard habitat and outdoor classroom Friday morning.

Over the past year, the school community, with help from Common Ground High School, the Yale Peabody Museum, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Audobon Connecticut, designed and built five gardens on campus. Teachers and students will now observe indigenous wildlife there, conduct long-term research projects, read, write and play in the outdoor classrooms.

With birdfeeders and filtered rainwater, the schoolyard habitat will also serve as a stepping stone for migrating birds, pollinators and other animals, according to Jillian Bell, a School Habitat Coordinator at Audobon CT.

“Let these gardens be a reminder of our loving school community,” said Janet Pepe, a kindergarten teacher at Quinnipiac STEM. “For these plants, it takes nutrient rich soil, glorious sunshine and life-sustaining water to create the everlasting foundation of growth, durability and continuous bloom, mirroring the development of our precious children. Let the sun always shine upon us!”

At the ceremony, school administrators and community partners, including Bell from Audobon CT, Suzannah Holsenback from Common Ground and Cynthia Corsair from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, shared their excitement for the new habitat and outdoor gardens.

Principal Grace Nathman spoke of watching the students grow and develop in the process of planning and installing the gardens.

“To see our kids scream when they first see a worm and to now have them realize that we are actually in the worm’s habitat is absolutely phenomenal and gratifying,” Nathman said.

Bell and Holsenback praised the school staff, parents and students for working together to build the gardens, emphasizing how they “embodied an exceptional schoolyard habitat project gone well.” Building a new habitat requires grit and determination, and it takes really great people to make really great things happen, Bell said. Holsenback added that some of the birds that rest and find food at Common Ground High School will be coming to Quinnipiac STEM instead.

Discovery Lab Teacher Stephanie White unveiled educational signs during the ceremony. One of the signs states Quinnipiac Stem’s mission, that the school “encourages children and community to develop deeper relationships with both nature and self and promote student interaction with the local environment.” Other signs around the gardens included a list of learning activities students will be doing in the gardens, a giant ruler and a community motto: “There’s only one you in this great big world … Make it a better place!”

Quinnipiac STEM joins 11 other New Haven public schools with schoolyard habitats as well as 24 others in the state of Connecticut (Read about them here, here, here and here). In June, Hill Central School will also be unveiling their habitat and West Rock STREAM Academy will unveil their project later in the fall.

The schoolyard habitat program is part of Audobon Connecticut’s Urban Oases program, an initiative that creates a network of habitats across parks, neighborhoods and schools for migrating songbirds. Among 17 public oases sites statewide, 14 are located in New Haven. In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formally recognized the Urban Oases program for providing opportunities for students and residents to connect with nature.

Students interviewed at the event said they learned a lot in building the gardens and are excited to have the new habitat on the school campus.

Una Heeman, a third-grader, said working on the garden made her feel “calm and peaceful,” adding that all students at Qunnipiac STEM worked together as a team.

“I’ve learned so much about plants, gardening, nature and teamwork through hands on experience,” said fifth-grader Auriela Malone said. “I learned how to water the plants and be like a fireman with a partner carrying the hose so we don’t hurt any of the plants. I’ve begun to learn which weeds we don’t want in our garden, where we sometimes mistake seedlings for weeds, but were still learning.”

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