It's a sad truth – children today are not spending much time in the outdoors. And young ones are more likely to spend a greater amount of face time with a screen than they will with an element of nature.
Stephenville ISD educator D'Anna Green has made it her mission to address the issue and has embraced a landscape-based pedagogy, also known in the business as place-based education.
"It’s basically just getting the kids out," she explained. "Just getting them outside makes the kids more awake, more alert, more attentive. There is research that shows place-based education even improves students’ test scores."
Green learned of the practice when she attended a workshop nearly seven years ago in Sinton that explored creative forms of instruction aimed to engage students more successfully.
"At the workshop we learned how to do water quality, how to identify plants and animals and did a lot of hands-on activities to be able to take back to share with teachers and students," she said. "So that is where I got the idea. And you can tell it’s been an ongoing project since."
Green gestured around the site gradually being shaped into an outdoor classroom for the district. It has been a challenge due to both terrain and budget, but things seem to be coming about as various facets of the community have banded together to make the endeavor a reality. In partnership with Laurah William's horticulture students and Bruce Nation's construction class, Green feels progress is being made.
“I’ve gotten $2,500 from the Education Foundation, and I received a Texas Parks and Wildlife grant for the past three years," Green said. "In that grant I got another $900 for planting trees. And then I have had volunteers from the Tarleton Wildlife society. They came in and helped us clear things out. County commissioners have come and helped pull up some of the trees, and I have had a lot of volunteer help."
She cited the Bosque River Trail council as helping to forward the project as the outdoor classroom, too, will include a walking trail.
"They are trying to get money to help connect our walking trail with the city," she said. "They are trying to tie in the two projects. It is all in the building stages right now. So it is one step at a time."
But the enterprise is gaining an impetus of its own and will benefit all of the district's students. Located behind the high school and Gilbert Intermediate, the facility will be within walking distance of the two campuses as well as Henderson Junior High.
“Everything will be very centrally located for fifth grade through 12th grade," Green said. "But everyone can utilize it. We have science teachers who will use it. We have the outdoor adventure classes that will use it. Cross country has said they would run through it so they would have somewhere else to go. The art teachers have said during their nature art projects they can come out and draw pictures of nature. And English teachers look forward to using it, especially during their poetry units."
And Green spoke of the benefits of pure aesthetic beauty that can inspire an appreciation for learning.
"Teachers can use it for just a nice 'sun' day," she said. “They can come out, sit on a bench with their students and read."`