The need for sustainability-oriented education and hands-on experiential learning is clear and agreed upon by families, educators and regional institutions. The challenge comes when we expect teachers to develop and implement outdoor projects in addition to their routine obligations.
Terra BIRDS’ “4th Grade Foundation in Sustainability” program addresses this need by leading students and teachers in being active stewards of their school grounds. Projects are not “out of a kit” or standardized lessons; rather, they are specific to the needs and goals of each school’s land and community. Terra BIRDS emphasizes problem solving skills, resourcefulness and teamwork to fulfill long-term goals of developing school cultures that value sustainable practices. By taking responsibility for the daily earth beneath their feet, students develop this mindset and carry it forward as they venture out into the world. Terra BIRDS meets with students and teachers once per week for 6-8 weeks on school grounds in both the fall and spring semesters. Topics and projects include growing food, soil building, land stewardship, ecological restoration, sustainable landscape design, gardening for wildlife, conservation, and permaculture principals. STEM content is included throughout the process. Through the experiential aspects of the program, students also explore the important topics of personal health and wellness, teamwork and effective communication, safety, and personal responsibility, ethics and civics. The projects vary from school to school, but always include cultivating food and habitat gardens, native landscaping, water harvesting, soil building, and beautification. The “4th Grade Foundation in Sustainability” is strongly supported by Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD) Superintendent, Barbara Hickman, and Coconino County Superintendent of Schools, Robert Kelty.
Terra BIRDS is partnering with the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative (SEDI) to help fund the “4th Grade Foundation in Sustainability.” SEDI is leveraging its Green Business Network to develop an “Adopt-a-Classroom” model that will secure sponsorships from local businesses to support individual 4th grade classes. During these challenging economic times, SEDI’s “Adopt-a-Classroom” model engages the business community in the important task of educating our youth to ensure a healthy and prosperous future for Northern Arizona. The “Adopt-a-Classroom” model will be critical to achieving the ultimate goal of offering the program to all 4th grade classes in FUSD. Terra BIRDS’ “4th Grade Foundation in Sustainability”, in collaboration with SEDI’s “Adopt-a-Classroom” model, jointly are designed as a self-sustaining process that engages local business support in leading 4th grade students on a creative journey of environmental and experiential learning that will prepare them to thrive in the world they will soon inherit.
Why 4th Grade?
Fourth graders have the desire and intellectual capacity to embrace important topics about the broadening world around them; and they are physically capable of performing the physical, hands-on work to make an impact on the world around them. The first step for a young person to become a steward of the environment is to develop a love for the natural world and a vision for humans’ positive role in it. Terra BIRDS staff, 4th graders and their teachers play and explore nature on school grounds and together use their imaginations to vision healthy habitats for both humans and other living beings; then we explore our individual skills and interests and find out how we can each contribute towards making these visions into reality. This program is part of the collaboration of stakeholders who share the common goal of providing a continuous track of sustainability-oriented education for Northern Arizona youth. Terra BIRDS’ “4th Grade Foundation in Sustainability” works in concert with Willow Bend’s elementary programming, Camp Colton for 6th graders, the Alpine Leadership Academy for middle schoolers, and STEM magnet programs at the high school level. Together, these programs and a broad array of community partners achieve the goal of raising new generations of thoughtful and committed stewards for a healthy Northern Arizona environment and sustainable economy.
Program History and Present Goals
John Taylor, founder of Terra BIRDS, started gardening with FUSD 4th graders in 2009. Terra BIRDS and FUSD aim to deliver the program to every 4th grade class in the District as a foundation for the aforementioned continuous track of sustainability and STEM education available to all students. To achieve this goal and to ensure credibility and ongoing financial support for the program, Terra BIRDS is developing a system to measure and document student achievement and metrics for success. Terra BIRDS is also developing a guide that will assist teachers in connecting program topics and experiential content to 4th grade-specific Common Core curriculum.
Current Projects For Spring and Summer 2013
During spring semester 2013, Terra BIRDS will deliver the “4th Grade Foundation in Sustainability” to FUSD classes at Marshall, Sechrist and Puente Elementary Schools. Terra BIRDS will also be leading a FUSD Summer FACTS Program at Thomas Elementary over the summer of 2013. Terra BIRDS staff is happy to share specific details about the projects at each of these schools.
For the Spring 2013 semester, two businesses have generously agreed to support the “4th Grade Foundation in Sustainability” project. Both APS and Foodlink have contributed funds to help implement this highly beneficial project. SEDI and Terra BIRDS want to extend their deepest gratitude to APS and Foodlink for recognizing the value in investing in local education through sponsoring a classroom for the “4th Grade Foundation in Sustainability” project.
Additional funding to support the “4th Grade Foundation in Sustainability” comes from a 2012 grant award from the Flagstaff Community Foundation. Additionally individual schools contribute funds donated by their PTO organizations or Arizona Tax Credit dollars. Terra BIRDS staff, families, and other volunteers contribute significant amounts of time and material resources as well to ensure the success of the program. FUSD is currently a finalist in the Helios STEM Grant through the Science Foundation Arizona. If awarded, this would provide funding for Terra BIRDS to fully realize the goal of expanding the “4th Grade Foundation in Sustainability” to all FUSD 4th grade classes.