Nature studies have always been a part of a Branch School education. They provide a hands-on way for students to use their math and science observation skills. They absolutely support book learning.
Our Outdoor Classroom is known in our community. We've presented and shared valuable curriculum with many other schools. Over the years we've developed important and reciprocal relationships with the Houston Audubon Society, Urban Harvest, and the Jane Goodall Institute, as well as foundations, through our conservation efforts.
- Goals - to educate students to love and feel at peace with natural systems, to be good earth stewards, and to recognize the value of natural habitats
- Students explore a native plant habitat including a pond/bog, host plants for at least 5 species of butterfly, vegetable beds, a spring wildflower meadow, a pocket prairie, citrus trees, and a bulb garden. They regularly visit the wildscape area as a resource for learning, including math and science lessons.
- Received Susan Vaughan Foundation, Toyota Tapestry Foundation, and The Joseph and Mary Cacioppo Foundation grants to fund habitat improvements and purchase of equipment including nature surveillance cameras and computer microscopes
- Program received the 2005 Lucie Wray Todd Award for environmental education from the Houston Audubon Society. OC teacher, Ann Hightower, has taught over a dozen Outdoor Classroom workshops to other independent schools and at conferences. She also leads students in the yearly Birdathon.
- Site is an Affiliated Garden of Urban Harvest, a non-profit Houston organization dedicated to strengthening communities through gardening. Students plant vegetable and flower seeds, harvest vegetables, and add to the native restoration seasonally.
- Students observe, measure, and document plant growth and research plant information. The gardening skills are incorporated into the students' math, science, language arts, and art curriculum.
- The Branch School is a certified "Texas Wildscapes Wildlife Habitat Demonstration Site" by Texas Parks & Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation. Certification requires that the designated site contain at least 75% native plant species.
- All Branch School students participate annually in the Houston Audubon Society Birdathon. Each class uses school sets of binoculars and bird guides to facilitate birdwatching skills. Some years the birdwatching is extended off-campus to the convenient Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary or the Katie Prairie Conservancy.
- 2008-2009 school grants purchased two "Sunlighter" indoor plant stands for raising seedlings and propagating plants, and composting equipment for recycling and life cycle studies
- Hands-on activities include composting, vegetable gardening, plant propagation, and habitat enhancement.
- One class participates each year in Project FeederWatch, a data-collection activity of the Cornell University Institute of Ornithology.
- One class participates in Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, an activity of the University of Minnesota, to expand knowledge of insect life cycle and support population of an at-risk species.