Former First Lady Laura Bush recognizes PSJA ISD as a wildlife conservation model.

In an effort to ensure local wildlife continues to prosper and encourage students to be active learners by exposing them to nature early on, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District has established itself as a leader in creating and maintaining natural habitats at schools.

This work is possible thanks to support from the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, the National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, and Texan by Nature. Because of their involvement, guidance, and support PSJA students are able to better retain their knowledge of science, reading, math, and social studies concepts by utilizing these natural habitats as outside classrooms, providing them with hands-on learning.

In light of these efforts, Texan by Nature, an organization founded by Former First Lady Laura Bush, recently designated PSJA ISD and the newly created Lower Rio Grande Valley Learning Landscapes Collaborative as a valued partner and Conservation Wrangler for leadership in establishing a network of organizations working together to engage students, teachers, and administrators to incorporate native habitat gardens as outdoor classrooms.

As part of this designation, Bush paid a special visit Nov. 8, 2017, to Palmer Elementary in Pharr. Guided by campus student leaders, she toured the school’s natural walking trail behind the school and also took part in a special planting ceremony with the school’s Gardening Club. During her visit, she had an opportunity to address district and community leaders in the school’s library where she shared the importance of preserving local wildlife and flora to maintain the unique ecosystem of the region.

“Schoolyard habitats offer a unique and necessary experience of interacting with nature that is often unavailable to children growing up in today’s society,” Bush said.

Currently, over 20 PSJA elementary campuses have preserved outdoor learning spaces, with the goal of expanding this work districtwide.

“What started as a way to preserve our South Texas natural flora and wildlife has quickly become part of our daily learning environment,” said Dr. Daniel King, PSJA ISD superintendent. “Our science coordinators and teachers have done a fantastic job incorporating this work in our curriculum and our partners have helped us make it a reality. Our school grounds are not only beautiful, they are living laboratories for our students to dig deep and practice what they learn in the classroom.”


Taking green to the next level

The entire PSJA community has been inspired by this work and other schools, including Buell Central in Pharr, have started similar sustainability projects.  

Through an initiative called Buell Green, Inc., students from middle school and high school employ a variety of project-based learning activities focused on sustainability and conservation inside and outside the classroom.

Some of their many projects include hydroponic and aquaponics gardens, sustainable agriculture through vertical gardening, organic composting, and even the use of renewable energy through their own solar-powered golf cart and wind energy kite project.

Students are able to harvest organic vegetables, such as lettuce, peppers, radish, and tomatoes. They even raise chickens to collect eggs. As a way to give back, all items harvested or collected by the students are donated to the RGV Food Bank.

These efforts have recently earned the campus a $50,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help fund the Buell Green Conservation and Restoration Program and expand it throughout the district.