magazine of University of Houston-Clear Lake
fall 2006 | volume 13 | number 1
HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?
Urban and suburban students will have increased opportunities to learn about theirareas’ native plants and the role natural resources play in their communities with a $20,000 grant from the Meadows Foundation, awarded to expand the school-based environmental education program run by UHCL’s Environmental Institute of Houston.The money will increase the number of schools where the institute offers School Habitat workshops, an initiative begun in the late 1990s.
School habitats provide educators a safe environment to conduct hands-on lessons for students. A habitat lets students walk outside the classroom and, without having to travel, begin studying the plants and animals native to that area. In addition, students become more aware of their responsibilities as stewards by building birdhouses and trails as well as participating in other environmental projects.
“Most of today’s population lives in either an urban or a suburban environment,” says Brenda Weiser, EIH’s director of environmental education. “Many of these students, not to mention their parents, never experience the outdoors nor do they understand how they are part of their community.”
Work by the institute, which has been located at UHCL since its inception in 1991, already has resulted in 37 school habitats in 12 school districts throughout the Houston- Galveston area. Most of these sites feature combinations of ponds and streams; vegetable, butterfly or hummingbird gardens; beehives; forest, desert, grassland or wetland areas; and structures such as bridges, shade areas or windmills.
“Students of today are voters of tomorrow, and we want them to understand that they can make an impact on the environment and natural resources,” says Weiser.
Lack of environmental education among teachers is another problem EIH works to reconcile. More than 800 teachers have participated in 25 School Habitat workshops offered through the institute since 1999. Each workshop serves 40 to 50 teachers on average. Schools hosting full-day workshops receive $1,000 in curriculum tools from EIH, while those hosting half-day programs receive $500 in materials. The Meadows Foundation grant will be used to pay for workshops and materials for 10 to 20 schools in 2006-07.
A model habitat is being built at UHCL where teachers and students can get a taste of environmental education.
“Students, like many adults, know little about their environment, natural resources, or the interdependencies among them,” says Weiser. “Though Houston is one of the largest cities in the nation, located near the Gulf of Mexico and built on a system of bayous, little emphasis is placed on the importance of coastal natural resources, water education and the relationship to the urban environment.”
The WaterSmart School Habitat Demonstration Lab, being built in two phases, will be used to teach hands-on habitat lessons to teachers attending School Habitat workshops at UHCL. Volunteers at Lyondell Chemical Co. chose to build the demonstration lab as a community service day project and began Phase I, which was completed in spring 2006.
Phase I features a pond, rainwater garden, an arbor, songbird garden, butterfly garden, pizza vegetable garden, insect and wildlife gardens, and a wildlife tracking station. The institute is seeking a sponsor for the completion of Phase II of the project, which will contain similar features as well as a wetland.
The site also will be used for pre-K through 12th-grade field trips, research by UHCL students and promotion of native and water-smart landscaping to community members.
In addition to the grant from the Meadows Foundation, EIH’s School Habitat program received funding, donations and support from Project Learning Tree’s GreenWorks!, Lyondell Chemical Co., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, WaterSmart, Texas A&M University’s Texas Cooperative Extension and Texas Sea Grant College Program, Mark Bowen Landscaping, Bay Area Trees, Houston Products Processing, Harris County Master Gardeners and community volunteers.
EIH has become a leader in building partnerships in environmental research, education and outreach. The institute conducts outreach projects and performs research on regional environmental issues such as natural resource conservation, pollution prevention, public policy and societal issues.
The Meadows Foundation is a private philanthropic institution established in 1948 by Algur H. and Virginia Meadows to benefit the people of Texas. The foundation’s mission is to assist the people and institutions of Texas improve the quality and circumstances of life for themselves and future generations.
To view the EIH demonstration lab, visit the lab’s webcam at http://www.eih.uhcl.edu. For more information about the Environmental Institute of Houston at UHCL, call 281- 283-3950 or visit http://www.eih.uhcl.edu/education.
THE ART TEAM
UHCL has assembled an art task force to help expand the institution’s visual arts programming and involve more people outside the university in the arts through fundraising and promotional efforts.
The group will raise funds to increase the number of UHCL art exhibits, broaden the scope of art education and increase access to art education for people of all ages, as well as promote UHCL art activities throughout the community.
“We have a diverse group with a varied range of ideas about how to build energy, momentum and interest in the arts programs here,” says Associate Vice President for University Advancement Dion McInnis.
Community members who have accepted the invitation to be on the task force are Distinguished Alumni and President’s Cabinet honorees, Sue Garman and Mike Reeves; President’s Cabinet honorees Peggy Clause, Verva Densmore and Kathy Reeves; Distinguished Alumna Tina Farrell; alumni Donna Durbin, Cheryl Evans, Margaret Kidd, Patty Romanko and Ann Trask; university friends Mary Williams, Shirley Wettling and Roseanne Frazier; and UHCL Executive Associate to the President Mary Ann Shallberg.
The task force’s first project is to promote the university’s art-related programs, particularly exhibitions in the art gallery, through their networks in the arts, business and general communities.
“With support from its patrons, UHCL hopes to see an increase in the number of visitors and the number of collaborative relationships with area business and arts organizations, which will result in more art-related job placements for students and an expanded network for exhibiting art,” says McInnis.
For more information about the task force, or to help the task force meet its goals, contact UHCL’s Office of University Advancement at 281-283-2021.
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