NORTHVILLE — Research shows that learning outdoors has many benefits for students.
That’s just one reason why Jamie Groff Dickinson, a science teacher at Northville High School, decided to involve about half of the students in Fulton County’s small district in a project to create diverse spaces for outdoor learning.
“We know that going out increases social-emotional learning,” Dickinson said. “Their moods are heightened. Their school performance is increased. There is so much research that shows outdoor learning is beneficial even for [just] 15 to 20 minutes.
On Wednesday morning, juniors, seniors and kindergarteners had the opportunity to work on the project. They planted a garden in hopes of creating a space where butterflies, including the monarch butterfly, which is on the endangered species list, can flourish.
The idea of learning spaces was born following the COVID.
“Thanks to COVID, we were kind of stuck on tech, so I just felt like the kids really needed to slow down and look around,” she said.
While she had educational programs she wanted to run outside, she lacked a place where she could actually do it. It was then that she had the idea of building spaces for students to learn a little more in nature.
In addition to the aforementioned pollinator garden, the fifth graders built a habitat for frogs and toads. The advanced technology class manufactures the bases of the meteorological instrument station. There is also an art class that builds signs and birdbaths to create a path for bluebirds.
As a professor of environmental and earth sciences, Dickinson’s favorite space is the mini field station that will be built along Great Sacandaga Lake. In order to build the station, Dickinson said she needed permission from the Village of Northville and the City of Northampton to apply for a work permit, which the Hudson River Regulatory District just approved.
“It’s going to house a lot of supplies where we can actually go to the beach during school and test the water for macroinvertebrates, we can check different aquatic insects and things like that,” she said.
The point of all of this is to show students how much they are stewards of the environment.
“I want them to realize their impact on the environment and I want them to be proud of their lake and their village, to understand everything around us that has an impact on biodiversity,” said Dickinson.
Elementary Principal Tammy Reidell said the space will only continue to grow under Dickinson’s leadership and will benefit many students.
“Outdoor learning increases children’s tendencies to care about and conserve their surroundings, which is a relevant concept for all of us,” Reidell said.
“She has worked diligently to align next-generation science standards with the stations that will be and are being created. Most grade levels will be able to use a station that fits into a science unit they are teaching. This will enhance the learning process and increase engagement.
Another goal of the stations is to engage students of all ages.
“So when our second graders learn about frogs and toads, they can talk to our fifth graders who built the frog and toad habitat for them – to interact with them as well as the space and the supports that exist,” she says.
Northville Middle and High School Principal Samuel Ratti said seeing him come together and having students involved at different levels is really exciting.
“Ms. Dickinson worked with the art teachers and their students and even had the kindergartens help with sowing and watering the garden,” Ratti said. “We often think of student engagement as students talking to each other and their teachers, but watching a group of high school students show elementary school students how to plant seeds and tend to the garden redefined what it means to be engaged.”
Dickinson said that by providing students with a way to learn science that is not limited to indoors, it will encourage more students to get involved in science-related jobs, some even in the Adirondacks.
The space can also be maintained for years, Dickinson said, noting that when rooms need fixing, students can work to fix those issues, while still using the space for programs.
Throughout the project, which Dickinson hopes to have nearly completed by the spring, the community has supported faculty and staff. Cindy Close, a master gardener, helped plant the various plants donated by community members, while Dickinson partnered with Allen & Palmer Hardware in the village to use their tools.
“Jamie and his team’s attention to detail, from idea to budgeting and executing the vision of creating an outdoor learning environment for our students, has been exemplary,” said said Superintendent Sarah Chauncey. “Student learning is aligned with specific goals and outcomes. The site she designed showcases the process that brought the OLC (Outdoor Learning Center) to life and illustrates the types of experiences our staff create to ensure our students are supported as curious, creative and engaged learners.
In the Community is a weekly feature highlighting an individual, organization or business in Fulton County. To submit exam candidates for presentation, please email [email protected]com.