Developing the Signature
Over the years, the Schaeffer garden has grown with the personal dedication of parents, the Schaeffer neighborhood, teachers, and students. The garden became a learning tool, a curricular tie-in, and an outdoor classroom. A theme of environmental stewardship began to grow and was nurtured by the Schaeffer community. Upon returning to Schaeffer, this environmental theme will become our unique school signature. As a school, we are looking to integrate environmental literacy into the reading, writing, math, social studies, and science curriculum.
In January of 2002, a Signature Core Team was created to begin to examine the developing 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. This was truly a cooperative effort of several stake holders. This group looked at what an Environmental Signature would look like, what were possible road blocks to its implementation, what was going to be needed to make this program unique and successful (Click to view the Schaeffer Signature Planning document). Through several work sessions, this group developed an outline of a signature to take back to the teachers. With teacher input and several revisions, the a living curriculum was designed. We are excited to implement this signature curriculum that will be integrated directly into our reading and writing curriculum.
With an innovative and supportive school district, we feel that Schaeffer Elementary is in a unique and prime position to create a prototype environmental studies area that will become a nationwide model. With an eco-garden and pond of this size, this outdoor classroom brings learning beyond the brick and mortar of a traditional school walls. With the curriculum integration that is being developed with experts from environmental, governmental, and educational agencies, and with community and industry support, we are willing to partner with other local districts schools in Eastern Pennsylvania to share our results and experiences. With the convergence of all involved in the process, this model will benefit not only the students of Schaeffer, but the ripple effect will go to the other MTSD schools, other districts, and beyond the borders of Pennsylvania. It can and will happen.
In the nationwide study titled, Closing the Achievement Gap, it was found that those schools that implemented the concept of the Environment as an Integrating Context for learning (EIC):
- had better performance on standardized measures of academic achievement in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies,
- reported reduced discipline and classroom management problems,
- increased engagement and enthusiasm for learning,
- greater pride and ownership in accomplishments.
The Schaeffer Eco-Pond and Environmental Studies Area
An on-site eco-garden and pond allows teachers to make the curriculum come alive and hands-on for the children. The eco-pond area provides the opportunity for students to learn about what is in their community’s/Schaeffer’s 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. Imagine an outdoor classroom where a 40 foot eco-pond hosts a variety of native plant life and aquatic pond species. A small group of fourth graders checks the pH level of the pond while they look for the signs of snails and frogs which inhabit the area. 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.
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 provides a “pocket park” for teachers to capitalize on children’s innate attraction to the natural world while providing unique opportunities to combine traditional subject areas in a meaningful whole. 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, by paths that transcend the limitations of traditional institutions, within environments that nurture passion for lifelong learning and stewardship in our global society. The creation of the Schaeffer eco-garden and pond environment promotes 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.
There are certain aspects of this project that we will be monitoring in creating a prototype and a model to be used in other schools. Once implemented, we will continue to track those areas researched in the nationwide study, Closing the Achievement Gap:
- Research concluded that those schools with environmental areas and used the environment as a context for learning had better performance on standardized measures of academic achievement in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. We have established baseline scores for students based on standardized test scores. We can now begin to see if the implementation of integrated environmental studies with the curriculum had a direct impact on student achievement.
- Research concluded that those schools with environmental areas and used the environment as a context for learning reported reduced discipline and classroom management problems. This, along with the introduction of a bully prevention program, can be tracked through the number of discipline referrals and discipline issues reported in the classroom.
- Research concluded that those schools with environmental areas and used the environment as a context for learning had increased engagement and enthusiasm for learning. With successful professional staff development for teachers, and innovative integration projects, this will be evident in the responses and interaction with students. It is a goal of this project to have students be the “experts” and demonstrate their projects and studies to other students and to other schools. A survey will also be created by a team of teachers to measure the attitudes of students in our school before the integration of the eco-garden and pond and at the end of the year.
- Research concluded that those schools with environmental areas and used the environment as a context for learning demonstrated greater pride and ownership in accomplishments. This will be evident by the growth of the eco-garden, the continued maintenance, and the class projects that will flourish in this area. It will also be evident by the generous support and time offered by the Schaeffer families, community, and partnerships with the business community and other schools. This project promotes pride and ownership through stewardship and taking care of their own immediate world. We look forward to the innovative and creative ideas by our students in the use and growth of this environment.