Back to School: Partnering with Local Schools to Strengthen Your Certification Program

By Julie Napolitano|September 19, 2013

Summer may be drawing to an end and school may be back in session, but don’t let that get you down; this is the ideal time to reach out and collaborate with school groups in your community. Partnering with local schools, colleges, or universities supports Wildlife Habitat Council certifications.

 Students in Scotland engage in hands-on learning at a wetland. Photo courtesy of ExxonMobil.

Photo courtesy of ExxonMobil.

School groups make a great partner for a Corporate Lands for Learning program, but this audience is also a valuable resource for a Wildlife at Work program. Including community groups such as schools provides added support to wildlife project activities in areas where employee involvement, for a number of reasons, might be lacking. Not only do you receive help with the required monitoring and documentation of your wildlife projects, but you offer students in your local community a valuable, hands-on learning experience outside the classroom. Your wildlife habitat is an outdoor laboratory which gives students the opportunity to apply what they are learning in the classroom in the real world situations, while giving you the opportunity to share the environmental stewardship activities of your company.

School groups can be involved in your Wildlife at Work and/or Corporate Lands for Learning program in many ways, however, including them in the monitoring and documentation aspect of your projects can help ensure you are keeping up with the ongoing activities can provide ample benefits to both parties. So, what are some ways to do this? You can start by looking at the monitoring activities that need to be done in the fall, or should be done in the fall, such as cleaning out song bird nest boxes or monitoring your native plantings or pollinator habitats. You may also want to collect additional data before seasons change, depending on your location. These can include water quality monitoring, species inventories, and invasive species management. Let’s look a little closer at how you might work with school groups to accomplish those activities.

Photo courtesy of Bridgestone Americas, Inc.

Photo courtesy of Bridgestone Americas, Inc.

First, teachers need a reason to come out to your site—they need a little incentive. Lucky for you, your wildlife habitat is an outdoor classroom with potential for meeting numerous standards. State standards are concepts, skills, and other benchmarks that students need to know and be able to do.  Working with teachers to develop the activities would ensure you provide materials and experience that are tougher to reach in the classroom. Here are some ideas to consider when reaching out to schools in your area.

  1.  Wildlife Project: Song bird boxes: Nest structures for song birds need annual maintenance and monitoring as part a sound management plan. In the fall, nesting structures should be cleaned out in the fall to prepare them for the next nesting season and to help prevent problems with flies and other parasites. You can use this opportunity to explain to the students why this step is an important part of your project and provide resources for the students to identify the types of nests you find and the different species that make each nest.
  2. Wildlife Project: Native Plant Landscape/Pollinator Garden: Invite local schools to help monitor your pollinator gardens which will measure how well it is benefitting wildlife and gives students a way to learn about pollinators. Both plant growth and pollinators should be monitored in the fall as part of the annual monitoring plan. Depending on the age of the students, students can help record the presence and absence, and photomonitoring of plant types as well as identifying adult pollinators and caterpillars. These activities provide a way to address plant-insect relationships and interdependence, life cycles, as well as giving students the opportunity to develop identification skills.
  3. Wildlife Project: Water Quality Monitoring: there are a number of indicators for water quality and this type of monitoring provides an excellent opportunity to involve older students at the high school level, but can also be adapted for younger students. Indicators such as pH, Dissolved Oxygen, and Temperature are just a few ways to monitor water quality and its possible effects on aquatic life and wildlife. Each indicator provides different information allowiing students to participate in collecting this data provides a hands-on learning opportunity with connections to STEM disciplines such as chemistry, mathematics, and biology.
  4. Species Inventories: Part of a good Wildlife Management Plan is to routinely conduct  a species inventory at your site where you track the diversity and abundance of species that are impacted by your projects. This will allow you identify how your wildlife projects have impacted the biodiversity on your site over time. Consider working with ecology, biology, or botany students from a local college or university who have strong species identification skills, and can conduct species inventories that will provide you with assistance for your program while also creating educational opportunities for the students.

The above suggestions just brush the surface when it comes to ways your site can reach out to the community to either create, or strengthen partnerships with local schools. Contact your Wildlife Habitat Council Biologists and Education Specialists for technical expertise on monitoring requirements and logs, as well as recommendations that apply to your site’s specific needs.

Read more WHC blogs.