Greg Allington has taught many visitors about outdoor habitats in his previous roles where he led field trips at the Bay City State Park and Chippewa Nature Center.
Now he plans to offer the same type of experiences right outside the school where he teaches.
Greg has been a special education teacher for 10 years.
He came to Zilwaukee School as an elementary special education teacher, where he has served for about 5 1/2 years – first as an elementary resource teacher for the first three and a half years and then as the sole K-8 resource room teacher for almost two years. It was mid-way through the 2021-2022 school year when Greg moved into the Autism Spectrum Disorder classroom at Zilwaukee.
Greg worked with his passion for outdoor education as a naturalist for Michigan State Parks during the summer, Chippewa Nature Center as a Homestead Farm Interpreter, then as a Resource Officer for the Saginaw Chippewa Academy and the Saginaw Indian Chippewa Tribe.
Collaborating with a number of agencies, Greg has worked hard to make the dream of the Schoolyard Habitat Project, an outdoor science lab – a reality.
The Fish & Wildlife Service provided a habitat grant with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Partners agreeing to develop the wetlands and gardens, remove invasive species, and add educational signs. In collaboration, the Chippewa Nature Center will provide the outdoor environmental education curriculum, training, and consultation to help teachers become knowledgeable and comfortable taking students outdoors for instruction.
Greg expects the project to take another year or two to come to fruition, but more support is on the way from the Parent Teacher Community Council, local community service clubs, youth groups, agencies, and businesses. "The whole idea is to offer hands-on outdoor science education so that students can experience right in their own backyard,” Greg said. “In effect, students can study animal and plant life and conduct water testing without having to leave the school property.
When it’s fully developed the outdoor science area will feature a 40,000-square-foot grass field with four baseball/softball diamonds with a retention basin and drain tiles. The retention basin is a man-made wetland of vernal pools with a great habitat for phytoplankton, zooplankton, macro-invertebrates, aquatic insects, and frogs. The surrounding grassland will be used to create native pollinator gardens, rain gardens, and native prairie grass wildflower gardens.
Plans also call for a pavilion and picnic tables and paved areas to offer accessibility to those with disabilities. “Everyone in the Zilwaukee K-8 school family will benefit,” Greg said.
“The main goal is to increase student engagement and achievement in science – across grade levels – with real-world, place-based, and project-based inquiry science,” he concluded. “And the secondary goal is to provide support, encouragement, and resources for teachers to grow this kind of instruction with their students in their various classrooms.