Phase Two Evaluation of The Connecting Schools to People and Place Program 2004-2005
Connecting Schools to People and Place Program Overview
The Connecting Schools to People and Place Program (CS2P) was launched in January 2003 as a pilot project between Woodsville Elementary School (WES) and New Hampshire Project Learning Tree (NHPLT). The program was designed as a model school improvement program, based on the environment and focused on sustained and intensive professional development. The goal of CS2P is to provide today's youth with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to become stewards of their local forests and other natural resources.
NHPLT supported WES staff through the following strategies: funding teacher release time and field trips; purchasing natural science supplies; facilitating monthly meetings and summer planning meetings; modeling natural science activities in and out of the classroom; and sharing natural science and curriculum-planning expertise.
The first phase of evaluation, completed in July of 2004, was largely formative, answering questions about program implementation. The evaluation explored the effectiveness of strategies employed by NHPLT staff, including monthly planning meetings, school visits, and acquisition of classroom materials. The evaluation also made preliminary inquiries into teacher practice change. The Phase One report detailed findings about process strengths and challenges, teacher, student, and school-wide outcomes, and offered recommendations for program improvement and future evaluation.
This document reports on the second phase of the evaluation, conducted during fall of 2004 and spring of 2005. This Phase Two evaluation included a continuation of the monthly monitoring and reporting by NHPLT staff, evaluator interviews and observations, and a written survey. This evaluation was primarily summative. It explored program outcomes, including changes to teacher practice, knowledge and values, as well as student and community outcomes.
Findings and Discussion
There is substantial evidence that CS2P impacted the teachers, students, and the community in diverse and positive ways. From the data, a picture emerged of a school with:
- teachers who are deepening their knowledge and skills in place-based education,
- students who are enthusiastic, engaged, and service-oriented, and
- a school with an evolving and improving relationship with the surrounding community.
One of CS2P's primary strategies was to help teachers plan and implement natural science based activities throughout the curriculum. The first set of evaluation questions focused on the impacts of CS2P on teachers' practices, natural science knowledge, and attitudes toward the environment.
Overall, the qualitative and quantitative data demonstrated that teachers made great strides in their development of new skills and strategies for teaching. The evaluation found that WES teachers are:
- Collaborating more, primarily as a result of monthly grade-level meetings, and reaping diverse benefits including:
- Improved curriculum, and more grade-wide and school-wide activities,
- Better communication and sharing of ideas and resources,
- Increased camaraderie amongst teachers and a collaborative school culture, and
- Networking beyond the school.
- Making greater use of the schoolyard and adjacent natural areas for more dynamic, engaging, and hands-on teaching.
- Using natural science to teach other subjects, particularly reading and writing.
- Increasing their use of PLT curriculum materials.
- Inviting increasing numbers of community members with varied specialties into the school and classrooms.
- Using new supplies to facilitate more frequent and varied natural science teaching.
CS2P supplied both intensive staff and physical resources and a personalized approach to teacher support at WES. The many examples described in the findings demonstrate that this approach was highly effective in preparing teachers with many new skills and strategies to teach locally based natural science on its own and as part of the larger curriculum. There are many promising indications that these changes will be lasting, and that this evolving style of teaching is beginning to establish itself as part of the overall culture of the school.
Findings about changes to teacher knowledge were less conclusive, with teachers reporting substantive learning in surveys, but being less forthcoming about their knowledge during interviews. Some teachers claimed new knowledge in areas such as tree and animal track identification. Others took the opportunity to reflect on gaps in their knowledge or to affirm their intent to rely on local experts. All teachers reported an interest in learning more about natural science.
Preliminary inquiry into teacher attitudes and values about the environment yielded evidence that teachers were developing a broader understanding and greater interest in their local environment, and increasing their participation in resource conservation.
As direct beneficiaries of the changes caused by their teachers' participation in CS2P, the students at WES exhibited many positive responses to the new teaching styles, activities, and content. The evaluation focused on teacher, staff, and parent reported changes to student enthusiasm for natural science and student stewardship behavior. The data illustrated significant changes to student enthusiasm, including:
- Anticipation of and greater engagement during natural science activities,
- Increased personal initiative toward learning natural science, and
- More productive participation in literacy activities when they related to natural science.
In the realm of stewardship behavior, students demonstrated:
- Greater involvement in litter collection in the schoolyard and beyond,
- Enthusiastic participation in and ownership of the recycling project,
- Self-motivated acts of energy conservation, and
- Development of an overall conservation ethic towards natural resources.
Collectively, the data on student enthusiasm and student stewardship behavior show CS2P achieving key program goals and profoundly impacting the students' experience with natural science.
The schoolwide theme at Woodsville for 2004-05 was "caring for our community." Some of the intended outcomes of CS2P relate to students' understanding of and participation in the community where they live, as well as community involvement in the school. Evidence suggests an evolving and deepening school/community relationship, including the following:
- More community members involved in the school,
- Greater community awareness of the school,
- Students visiting more places in the community,
- More parent involvement in the school.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Much of the success of the partnership between NHPLT and WES is attributed to the truly collaborative nature of their efforts. Identifying and facilitating the efforts that were most likely to succeed was a key strategy for NHPLT staff. They worked hard to build rapport with the teachers, understand their needs, and meet those needs in supportive ways. Two of the success stories from the partnership--paper recycling and the Helping Tree--were projects that school staff had initiated or intended to initiate prior to CS2P, but that did not come to fruition or attain high levels of success until CS2P. The inputs that NHPLT provided--including grade level planning meetings, materials to help teach, modeling use of teaching resources and local places, and facilitating community connections-served to jump start and provide healthy momentum for changes in teachers, students, and the school culture.
CS2P produced a remarkable and laudable range of successes at many levels. Thoughtful planning, dynamic implementation, and effective use of formative evaluation have helped NHPLT achieve an impressive number of the intended outcomes of the program. The findings of this evaluation suggest that WES will continue to pursue program goals in the years to come and serve as a model for future CS2P schools. The experience of this pilot program provided a strong foundation for replication. With careful selection of future sites, development of strategies to continue to support and motivate the teachers, and detailed documentation of accomplishments thus far, NHPLT should continue to succeed with CS2P.
- place-based education, environment as integrating context (EIC)
- environmental education
- outdoor education, experiential education
- school based
- community education
- academic performance
- self efficacy
- environmental knowledge, attitude and awareness
- stewardship behavior
- school change
- elementary (6-11 years old)