WaterSmart School Habitat Demonstration Lab
Teaching teachers how to use the outdoors with
Founded at the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) in 1991, EIH performs research on regional environmental issues and conducts education and outreach projects. A school-based program, for example, provides customized environmental education workshops to pre-service and in-service teachers to show them how to link science, math, social studies, and other disciplines to the environment in order to meet state standards. Most recently, plans were laid to build a model school habitat at UHCL to teach real-life, hands-on habitat lessons to teachers.
The WaterSmart School Habitat Demonstration Lab, being built in multiple phases, has turned into a real community effort involving individuals from business, government, nonprofit organizations, and other volunteers from the community-at-large. Its features include a pond, rainwater garden, an arbor, songbird garden, butterfly garden, pizza vegetable garden, insect and wildlife gardens, and a wildlife tracking station.
“Most of today’s population lives in either an urban or a suburban environment,” says Brenda Weiser, EIH’s director of environmental education. “Many of these students, not to mention their parents, never experience the outdoors nor do they understand how they are part of their community.”
School habitats provide educators a safe environment to conduct hands-on lessons for students. A habitat lets students walk outside the classroom and, without having to travel, begin studying the plants and animals native to that area. In addition, students become more aware of their responsibilities as stewards by building birdhouses and trails as well as participating in other environmental projects.
Sheila Brown, EIH’s school habitat curriculum specialist states, “Teaching students how to be stewards of the land is a high priority and using a habitat can help with this message.”
The first challenge in building the natural habitat was what to do with all the pretty grass and how to remove it? UHCL facilities employees assisted here. They scraped the grass and hauled it away, laid the waterline for the pond, and dug the pond. Several other work days followed during which volunteers marked the trails, built beds, and prepared for the big day of planting and installing the pond liner and irrigation system.
On a very rainy day in May, local volunteers and partners came to support the community garden. Over 70 volunteers from Lyondell Chemical Company, who chose to support the demonstration lab as their Global Care Day community project, arrived at the site with tools, gardening equipment, and lots of enthusiasm. The volunteers built a natural habitat with an arbor, benches, picnic tables, birdhouses, and compost bins; they placed logs as pathway borders, spread mulch and bedding soil, and built gravel sidewalks. Parents and children began planting the many native and water-smart species, completed the trails, and even laid the pond liner (after removing all the water that had collected from the rain). A few weeks later, the Master Gardeners held an irrigation workshop and participants received hands-on experiences as they installed an irrigation system designed for the habitat. The site that once was a dream was now a reality.
“This will make a difference for the teachers who will come here to learn how to establish a habitat at their schools,” said Brown. “It is a model for schools.”
The WaterSmart School Habitat Demonstration Lab is already being used to teach hands-on habitat lessons to teachers attending School Habitat workshops at UHCL. It’s also a true community garden. On Wednesdays during the school year, fourth and fifth grade students from
Last November, the Environmental Institute of Houston/University of Houston-Clear Lake was recognized for their WaterSmart School Habitat Demonstration Lab at the Keep Houston Beautiful and Mayor’s Proud Partners Award Ceremony. The award recognized EIH’s efforts reaching out to the community, community leaders, and educational partners while beautifying the UHCL campus.
As a result of the demonstration lab’s success and visibility, others have became interested in the project and are joining forces to help build a second phase, the pollinators’ garden, that will also be used as model for schools and other entities. Recently, EIH was awarded a grant from the Texas Regional Collaborative/Shell Oil Company for this Pollinators and Native Plants Demonstration School Habitat. An area of land (approximately 2600 sq ft) that lies adjacent to the WaterSmart School Habitat Demonstration Lab will be restored to a native prairie with pollinating plants. Volunteers from the Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, industry, university, and local school groups will help with the restoration efforts that should be completed by mid-June.
In addition to the many in-kind hours donated by volunteers, EIH’s School Habitat program received funding, donations and support from
To view the EIH demonstration lab, visit the lab’s webcam at http://www.eih.uhcl.edu. For more information about the Environmental Institute of Houston at UHCL, call 281-283-3950 or visit http://www.eih.uhcl.edu/education.
Do you have an idea for a service-learning or community action project for your students but don't have enough funds to implement it? Why not apply for one of PLT's GreenWorks! grants? This year, $100,000 will be awarded to schools and youth organizations for environmental neighborhood improvement projects that involve youth with their community. Grants up to $5,000 are available. Proposals are due on October 31st. For guidelines and information about how to apply, visit www.greenworks.org.