Thanks to funding from the Greater Louisville Sierra Club, Bernheim Forest is bringing an outdoor classroom experience to fourth graders at Jefferson County Public Schools Hazelwood Elementary school during the 2018-2019 school year. Chosen through a competitive application process, the Hazelwood fourth graders will participate in an innovative pilot program called Restoring Nature’s Classroom.
The program includes multiple field trips to Bernheim during the school year. In between field trips, Bernheim educators will make several visits to the classroom for additional instruction. Bernheim Education Director, Whitney Wurzel said the combination of field and classroom lessons will help “tie it all together.”
Hazelwood Elementary Principal Tom Peterson said everyone at the school is extremely proud to be chosen for this learning experience and their students are excited about the opportunity to see the Bernheim Forest and interact with nature.
“At Hazelwood, we strive to develop well-rounded students,” said Tom Peterson, principal of Hazelwood. “The outdoor classroom gives students an opportunity to disconnect from technology, socialize, learn more about the delicate balance of our environment and problem solve. Along the way, we expect the students will develop better relationships with their peers, learn to collaborate and become role models and leaders in our school.”
Wurzel added that the lessons will support Next Generation Science Standards, which are of particular importance to fourth grade teachers because students are tested in science at that grade level.
“Studies show schools that use outdoor classrooms produce significant student gains in science, social studies, language arts, and math,” said Wurzel. “There are documented cases where outdoor science programs improved test scores by as much as 27 percent.”
Hazelwood will compare school standardized test results between the pilot program year and the previous school year to gauge impact. According to Wurzel, for Bernheim this program’s impact is measured in more than test scores.
“Children in outdoor education settings show increases in self-esteem, problem solving, and motivation to learn,” she said. “We are also helping them build a lifelong connection with nature and hopefully growing the next generation of environmental stewards.”
The chair of Greater Louisville Sierra Club, Drew Foley, said it was Bernheim’s commitment to environmental education that made them a ‘natural’ partner. With over 2,400 members in the region and more than three million nationwide, Sierra Club is considered one of the nation’s most influential grassroots environmental organizations. “When we educate one child about planet Earth, we educate and protect the world,” said Foley.
Foley also acknowledged Chad Cooley, owner of Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ restaurants in Louisville, whose donation to the Greater Louisville Sierra Club made the funding for this project possible.