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Linking Habitat Development to Educational Programming and Stewardship

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

As the O’Hara Nature Center (ONC) has grown and developed from 2012 to its present state, the grounds and gardens offer sustainable ways to demonstrate what is possible around creating mini bio-intensive ecosystems. These systems support a diverse array of native flora and pollinating fauna in a dense suburban area in Southern Westchester, New York, that suffers from heavy and constant deer pressure.

In 2020, the ONC was selected to be a part of a yearlong study by Cornell Waste Management Institute to collect data on the native flora from the eleven educational gardens, as well as the pollinators that relied on these plants as a food source. Once I collected the pollinator data, I uploaded it onto the citizen science platform iNaturalist. Then, Cornell Waste Management Institute shared it with the New York State Department of Transportation, who took the collected data to develop topsoil seed mixtures for roadside pollinating strips throughout New York State. A link to a presentation on the final research work can be found here: (

Through this research, we discovered that over 150 pollinators rely on the native plants in the gardens located at the ONC that cover less than an acre of property! From these 150 identified pollinators, a “vulnerable species,” the Northern Golden Bumblebee (Bombus fervidus) was identified. These positive findings demonstrate the impact native plants play on supporting, and possibly rehabilitating, land that was once underused. These areas can help maintain a robust and diverse community of plant and animal life.

The current work at the ONC (2021 – present) examines how best practices and management systems inform educational programming with the Irvington School District. A one-year pilot program is underway with the Irvington Middle and High School Vocational Independence Program (VIP). Three times a week, students and their classroom teachers, along with the ONC staff, work on skills and concepts in horticulture, as well as landscape management on the grounds and in the ONC gardens. These skills are developed into a yearlong program that focuses on management, development, and sustainable solutions in landscape management. This program promotes independence for students who represent a diverse array of learners with a diverse set of abilities. They are enabled to develop personal and life skills that focus on their strengths. This important work is all centered on the ONC’s mission of sustainability and community-driven experiences. To follow along with our programming and events, please visit the Irvington Woods Website:

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In a study examining how outdoor learning influences the satisfaction of basic psychological needs, researchers collected data relating to a week of learning in two educational settings: a regular classroom and a residential outdoor learning course. These two settings incorporated social learning, personal development, and ecological knowledge in a regional context, as paper helpers worked in groups to learn about various science topics. Students completed questionnaires in each educational setting to evaluate the effect that each had. Additionally, researchers held group-interviews that provide insight into students’ attitudes and beliefs.

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