Central Region teacher creates community-school environmental survey project

Published December 2010 Voice

A hush fell over the group of parents and students, as Juniata Valley Education Association member Kristin Joivell pointed to the edge of the wooded field where a large doe bounded between the trees of the outdoor nature center. The elementary students crowded around her and busily began recording the information on their survey tally sheets.

“It’s a good day for surveying when you see a live animal,” Joivell told the  group of more than 40 students and parents who gathered on a brisk November afternoon to be part of a community environmental survey team at a nature center behind Juniata Valley Elementary School in Huntingdon County, Central Region.

Joivell, who teaches kindergarten,  organized four community outreach surveying events this fall to get community members and mostly elementary students involved in examining, identifying, and cataloging wildlife and plants. The data collected from the surveys will be used by Joivell to create a nature guide for the nature center, which includes a wooded area, a field, a river, and nearby pond.

The four community environmental survey excursions attracted more than 40 parents and community volunteers, including a school board member, and more than 30 students ranging in age from toddlers to teens.  On this particular afternoon, the group identified many plants, a small turtle, raccoon prints near the river, and a large amount of owl pellets on the ground. 

Joivell came up with the community environmental survey action project after she spent two weeks last summer with a team of scientists doing coastal ecology research on Inagua Island in the Bahamas. Joivell received an Earthwatch Fellowship from the Northrop Grumman Foundation.  Earthwatch is the world’s largest environmental nonprofit volunteer organization. The organization’s mission is to engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education. During the two weeks Joivell spent her time surveying fish, sponge, algae, and coral species and assessing coastal plants and testing water quality.

Joivell wanted to use her new surveying skills to enhance her students’ interest in environmental science, as well as getting community members more involved in the local public school.  Education research shows that when schools, families and communities work together to support learning, students tend to earn higher grades, attend school more regularly, and stay in school longer.

“By welcoming parents into your classroom, you give them the opportunity to become part of your classroom community,’’ Joivell said.  “I think that by expanding your classroom community through encouraging parent involvement, you give parents the chance to share their expertise, diversify the learning of your students, and increase the avenues of learning for everyone connected to your classroom. When students feel that you are part of their support system, I think that they feel more relaxed, attentive, and interested in school."

Parent Pam Grugan said the project was a great way for her to get involved in supporting both public education and her son. 

“Kristin is a strong teacher and I wanted to support the work she does while also supporting my son’s interests,” Grugan said. “Kristin puts a lot of energy into encouraging her students’ interests in science so the kids want to be involved.” 



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