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Outdoor Classroom

Hands-on Learning at Gililland School

"It makes my heart sing to know you have discovered the pleasure of planting and watching native plants, grasses and trees grow… I wish every school child could have your 'outdoor classroom' experience."

Lady Bird Johnson
to students and teachers at Gililland Elementary School

Gililland Elementary School is located in the community of Blue Mound, Texas, just west of Fort Worth. Many of the parents of children at the school work at nearby Composite Technologies, Inc. - a construction materials manufacturing plant that is a subsidiary of W.R. Grace. Adjacent to the plant and also owned by the company was a 28-acre parcel of land with a creek running through it, which had been used for years as an unofficial dumping ground. Neiman Environments, Inc. was hired in 1991 to clean up the land and restore it with native wildflowers, grasses and trees. Right from the beginning, we saw the opportunities for the restored site to become a centerpiece of community activity and environmental education. Bill Neiman of NEI and Bob Deskin of Composite talked to teachers and administrators at the school, which is just a few minutes' walk away, and invited them to participate and use the facility as an outdoor learning center.

Ten years later, with the ongoing support of Composite Technologies and a grant from the Rainwater Foundation in Fort Worth, the "Prairie Project" as it is known, continues to be a model of how outdoor spaces can be used to teach children not just about botany and biology, but everything from mathmatics to literature to history and more.

See pictures from the Prairie Project

One of the first teachers we met in the Gililland project is Jane Weaver, who teaches fifth-graders at Gililland Elementary. Each year, in addition to participating in the annual tree planting and open house events on the Prairie Project land, Mrs. Weaver's classes take field trips to even more wide-open spaces, including the Mitchell Ranch near Cresson, Texas. Mitchell Ranch offers an extraordinary variety of educational opportunities, from identifying native plants to learning about how beef cattle can be raised in an environmentally responsible way.

See pictures from a recent field trip to Mitchell Ranch