Marya Fowler, National Wildlife Federation and Anne Muller, Austin ISD – Discovery Hill
A robust partnership between NWF and Austin ISD set the stage for transforming the idea of a demonstration schoolyard habitat into the vibrant outdoor learning center that is Discovery Hill. The seed for this project was planted with a 2010 grant that the National Wildlife Federation received from the Toyota USA Foundation. Marya developed the initial vision for the project with a class of graduate students from Texas A&M Landscape Architecture school. Marya raised over $50,000 through grants from individuals and corporate sponsors, partnered with more than 10 organizations, and recruited, managed and inspired over 75 volunteers for more than 500 hours to build the garden. The commitment between AISD and NWF provided the opportunity to employ an Outdoor Learning Specialist, Anne Muller, who offers professional development to AISD Science Teachers. Anne coordinates and conducts field trips for schools on the site and regularly explores nature with and teaches students from the neighboring Pleasant Hill Elementary School. Anne also manages the maintenance and care of the site and helps to bring partnering organizations in to the site for their trainings. Since the ribbon cutting ceremony in 2013, over 6,000 students have visited Discovery Hill from the nearby Pleasant Hill Elementary and campuses all over the District. Discovery Hill has also been used to train over 500 teachers on the implementation of schoolyard habitats on their own campuses and on the use of outdoor spaces in the curriculum. The National Wildlife Federation’s Schoolyard Habitat project, in partnership with the Austin Independent School District, is a proof of concept that demonstrates that outdoor learning can be successfully institutionalized within a major urban school district. The Discovery Hill Outdoor Learning Center and the children who are outdoors learning in it and thriving in it each day are a living testament to that success.
Lee Walker has established himself as the quintessential collaborator, some might say a collaborator magnet, and so our award for community collaboration is presented in his name. Lee served as the chair of the Westcave Board, and has been its primary benefactor, for more than 25 years. It was Lee’s skill at collaborative leadership that generated the funds to build our fabulous Warren Skaaren Environmental Learning Center and those same skills have guided Westcave in a new and expanded strategic direction.