6th grade teacher, Jena Piacenti loves engaging her students in outdoor learning at Sand Lake Park behind Sand Lake Elementary. She uses the space to teach them about the flora and fauna, taking advantage of opportunities for civic engagement, community partnership, and park stewardship. Over the past two years, Schools on Trails has worked closely with Jena and her students to support these learning efforts and connections.
Last year, the school officially adopted Sand Lake Park with a pledge to become active stewards. Schools on Trails worked with the 6th grade students to create a Schools on Trails map that reflects the students’ own experiences in the park, with their artwork and place names. The students even helped translate the map into Japanese as part of the school’s Japanese Language Partial Immersion Program. The students conducted an analysis of the park, carefully assessing its strengths and weakness, which they presented to the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department. Park improvements completed that year included sign repairs and nest box installations.
This year, we matched them with volunteer landscape architects, Kevin Doniere (National Park Service) and Stephanie Cloud (Corvus Design), who spent many hours helping the students through the design process to create an outdoor classroom space at Sand Lake Park. The students consulted with community groups, numerous community partners, and the rest of the student body at their school for feedback. They have been an active voice in their community and their school, sharing their vision for park improvements and increased school use of Sand Lake Park as a learning area. This Spring the Anchorage Park Foundation awarded them a $20,000 Challenge Grant to build their lakeside learning lab in Sand Lake Park. The sixth graders are embracing the learning opportunities in the park and sharing their newfound knowledge of the flora and fauna found in the park with other classes. Most recently they have been recording wood frog sounds!