In January of 2002, a Signature Core Team was created to begin to examine the development of a Schaeffer Environmental Science Signature. The group consisted of teachers from each grade level, a school board member, the Director of Elementary Education/Asst. Superintendent, and a member of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Through several work sessions, this group developed an outline of a signature to take back to the teachers. With teacher input and several revisions, a living curriculum was designed. With an innovative and supportive school district, Schaeffer Elementary was in a unique and prime position to create a prototype environmental studies area.
With a grant funded through High Industries and the Manheim Township Education Foundation, an on-site eco-garden and pond were created to allow teachers to make the curriculum come alive with hands-on learning for the children. The eco-pond area provides the opportunity for students to learn about what is in their backyard both figuratively and literally; build on their innate interest in nature, using dynamic, hands-on activities; and focus on the real world using learner-centered, adaptive pedagogy. We can take the science experiments that we were simulating on a small scale in the classroom and put them in a real-world environment for all to research. The wheelchair accessible pathway around the pond provides equal access to a true outdoor classroom where environmental studies are alive and integrated with the curriculum.
Public School and Local Company Team Up to Create Unique Outdoor Classroom
In a first-of-its-kind partnership between a local public school, Manheim Township School District and High Industries, Inc. announce the start of construction of the "Schaeffer Environmental Area," an eco-pond and garden located on the grounds of N. C. Schaeffer Elementary School.
The environmental area is a unique outdoor classroom and will become an important learning tool -- not only for Schaeffer students, but also for school districts throughout eastern Pennsylvania.
"We want to bring environmental literacy into the reading, writing, math, social studies and science curriculum," Aldinger stated. "With an eco-garden and pond of this size and quality, we can take learning beyond the bricks and mortar boundaries of a traditional school -- and allow teachers to make the curriculum come alive and hands-on for the children."
To realize the dream of an environmental studies area that is a model for the nation, the Manheim Township Educational Foundation turned to High Industries, one of the region's oldest and largest employers -- and a long-time supporter of projects that offer a high degree of benefit to the local community. S. Dale High, president and chairman of the board at High Industries, speaking on behalf of all members of the High family, is very pleased that the company can help bring this powerful learning resource to life.
"Part of the High Industries' Philosophy states that we should 'contribute to a world of beauty, prosperity and peace,' and this exciting project does just that," High said. "This will be a valuable, hands-on outdoor classroom that will help to build students' interest in nature -- by making the stuff of science books come alive in a real-world environment. It is the hope of the High family that this first-of-its-kind center will serve students for many generations to come - while motivating other employers to do the same kind of thing for the communities that support them," High stated.
The eco-garden and pond provide an outdoor living laboratory to be studied, developed, and enjoyed by the Schaeffer students and families. This environmental area allows teachers to capitalize on children's innate attraction to the natural world while providing unique opportunities to combine traditional subject areas with a meaningful experience. Engaging students in real-world scenarios with real-world problem solving will produce successful stewards of tomorrow's world.
As stated in the mission of the Manheim Township School District, we want to ensure that each student develops personal integrity and realizes his or her own genius within environments that nurture and challenge for success. The Schaeffer eco-garden and pond promote an innovative learning environment that becomes an educational model for transcending traditional limitations, nurtures the student's passion for learning, and focuses on environmental stewardship in our society.
The garden continues to have curricular ties to literature, writing, journaling, and the Pennsylvania Environment and Ecology standards. The garden and pond are places for students to apply what they have studied in class to a real-life application. Students read about the role particular plants play in the environment, in history, and in integrated pest management.
Over the years, the Schaeffer garden has grown with the personal dedication of parents, the Schaeffer neighborhood, teachers, and students. The garden has become a learning tool, a curricular tie-in, and an outdoor classroom.
Parents of current students, as well as, alumni parents, help prepare the garden beds, pull weeds, trim and mow the grass, and water the plants when necessary. Parents have been involved with this project from designing to planting. Beautifying the school grounds, whether the garden or pond, has been a project of several parents with the acquiring of plant donations, donating time and labor, and their creative input. The care of these areas is seen as a way of contributing and being active in their child’s school.
Schaeffer parents have also become involved in the care and growth of this pond area with assistance in obtaining plants, trees, bird feeders, and researching what plants are needed for a pond of this nature. Parents assist in cleaning the pond, creating leave barriers, and in volunteering when needed. This pond is more than just a body of water, it is focus point that stimulates learning and enhances the quality of our school environment.