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Schoolyard habitats

Cover boards placed on the forest floor provide “microhabitats” for many creatures. Flipped over for demonstration purposes, the underside of this board illustrates the decomposition process and reveals slug eggs, a red-backed salamander and hickory nuts cached by deer mice.


January 18, 2012

WAYNE COUNTY, PA — “I believe schools often don’t realize what they have to work with right on their own grounds,” contends John Jose of Otter Creek Environmental Education Services based in Beach Lake.

To seize those opportunities, Jose has begun working with schools in Wayne County to help them expand the learning opportunities available outside their classroom walls. In doing so, Jose performs evaluations that take into account a school’s grounds from both a habitat and an educational perspective.

With nearly 30 years’ experience as a biologist and environmental educator, Jose brings both perspectives together to customize effective, safe, economical and enjoyable programming that takes advantage of what individual school campuses have to offer.

“I see an important part of my job as showing them the habitats they have available and how to utilize them to their best advantage, from an environmental education perspective,” said Jose.

Connecting students with the natural world provides for an immersive, hands-on experience of what a textbook can only show in words and pictures. “It extends that learning into real life applications when students get involved in monitoring and collecting data on a bluebird box trail, growing their own vegetable and perennial gardens, or learning the winter ecology and habitat needs of wildlife that inhabit regional woodlands through track and sign interpretive programs,” said Jose.

While completing his “Schoolyard Habitat Evaluations,” Jose produces documents designed to provide each school with a template to guide them in the development of suitable on-campus programming. The evaluations identify and characterize habitats on school grounds as either unusable, “program-ready” or in need of improvement to safely support environmental education.

After working with Stourbridge Primary Center in Honesdale, the school now has in-situ woodland ecology, raised-bed gardening, bluebird nest boxes and tracking programs in place.

Jose is currently producing an evaluation for R.D. Wilson Elementary School and recently completed one for the new Evergreen Elementary School, both of the Western Wayne School District.

One suggestion for Evergreen is a Viola Growing Project that would allow children to grow the plants from seed, beautify their campus while the flowers are in bloom and make use of harvested flowers in art projects such as greeting cards that could be given to family members or sold as a fundraiser.