~ Part I. By Stuart Grauer (Head of School)
~ Part II. By Jesse Giessow (Grauer parent)
Part I. Introduction: The Impact of Green Spaces on Learning and Development
I arrived in San Diego in the 1980s and soon began touring all the local campuses. (That’s what I call fun.) One of my favorite campuses in San Diego was an independent school with a beautiful set of well-aged, soulful buildings all surrounding a quad of green. In various corners were tall native trees, coastal sage, and some gently rolling land.
Years later, I had occasion to return and I was crestfallen. Gone was anything of green. The entire quad had been replaced by a huge, square, tall building which appeared to be largely office space. The edges of the campus were all concrete or asphalt now. Even what appeared to be greenery, the football field, was artificial turf. Plastic grass. It looked to me as though the only greenery was in pots and planters. Nothing was growing out of the ground. Nothing was native. There was hardly a place for kids to gather outdoors except in organized, rule-bound, or coached activities.
It’s a foregone conclusion that the school developers on this campus were well intentioned. Surely, like most educators, they believed that success meant: more students, more programs, more facilities, more controls, more, more, more. School developers (who are often not teachers) have confused “more” with “learning,” “more” with “success,” and of course “more” with “status.” Since that time, I have seen campuses steadily paving over their green spaces and steadily equating success with making the school population bigger.
An awful irony of this is: once a campus becomes over-developed like the one above, a new generation almost always comes in and wishes they could develop the greenery. But by then, they can’t. By then, they have surrounded themselves with neediness and cinderblock. They need to boost enrollment, which becomes an end in and of itself—by then, the logic of school development has become “circular.” Sadly, this needs saying: There are larger purposes for schools than enrollment size. It is not the size of the student body alone that makes a school “big.”
A green campus is not just a matter of having a pretty place. Natural, green environments for kids to wander have a profound impact on learning and all human development. Learning in natural outdoor spaces has a positive impact on nearly all areas of child development. Study after study shows that a natural environment advances not only life science and arts education (as is obvious), it advances happiness and socialization (but shouldn’t that be obvious, too?). One such study is called, “Effects of Outdoor Education Programs for Children in California” (American Institutes for Research, January 2005), but there are many studies to pick from.
In another experiment, researchers elevated CO2 levels to simulate the loss of greenery, and student cognitive scores dropped dramatically (based upon testing with the Strategic Management Software Executive Decision tool, used by more than 70,000 participants worldwide over the last six decades). Participants in green conditions averaged 61% higher scores in cognitive testing. There are many positive psychological impacts of working in green spaces, as well. There is less aggression and even less eye-strain!
It is of course wonderful to hear how the impacts of outdoor learning have come under increasing study. Meanwhile, I try not to be discouraged by this wonder: Do we really need big data to prove we belong in the natural world? Are we really waiting for a “strategic management software executive decision tool” to convince us there is wisdom in nature? And is it just me or is anyone else incredulous that these researchers are studying the benefits of nature by simulating it on a computer?
Please read the following beautifully written article about The Grauer School habitat and trails systems, written by Grauer mom and naturalist, Jesse Giessow. Read, and then get out there! Our trails are open to all Grauer families.
Part II. Native Habitat at Grauer Today
Over one-third of the Grauer campus is native habitat, unspoiled. If you haven’t wandered the trails in the native habitat above school, now is a lovely time to do so, and here is a guide to a few of the blooming plants you will see – all Grauer families are welcome to wander.
The bees are LOVING the black sage (Salvia mellifera) right now – it has pale purple blooms and when you brush against the foliage you will definitely smell that classic sage aroma.
The monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus) is simply gorgeous with its bright red-orange flowers.
In a few spots there is a sweet little purple snapdragon (Antirrhinum nutallianum) – I have it in my garden and it re-seeds in new areas every year, which makes me very happy.
The lovely native honeysuckle (Lonicera subspicata) is a meandering, shrubby vine with delicate creamy flowers.
The viney plant that is yellowing and dying back already is a native cucumber called manroot (Marah macrocarpa). It has spikey loofah like seed pods, and very large underground tubers from which it regrows every year.
Our son Quinn recently dug up a plant in our yard that needed to be moved, and it was surprisingly enormous:
Hope you wander around – the habitat and wildlife corridor is a very special part of our campus, which we have permanently protected in a State and Federal wildlife easement.
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