The Hendricks County Solid Waste Management District recently presented its 2012 Environmental Education Award to Jennifer Davies and Carol Ford of the Avon Outdoor Learning Center (AOLC).
The AOLC is a seven-acre site created in 1985 to provide a place for the community to be outside, active, and learning. Located between Maple and White Oak elementary schools, the center consists of a restored 1840s log cabin, a wetland, an amphitheater, a pond, a prairie, and a number of gardens. Over the years, in excess of two miles of hiking trails have also been built to help visitors explore the area.
Through the work and dedication of Davies and Ford, the Avon Outdoor Learning Center has been able to provide hands-on, outdoor, environmental education to many students, regardless of their grade level. The programs provided include the study of the seasons, physical properties of matter, soils and decomposition of organic matter, the weather, the Earth’s materials, and water quality monitoring.
Fourth-graders also enjoy Pioneer Day at the AOLC where they are able to interact with actors portraying individuals who lived in this region prior to Indiana becoming a state. The students churn their own butter, cut their own firewood, and gain an appreciation for life in the early 1800s.
Since 2008, when Davies began as a part-time staff member, more than 25,000 students have attended programs at the center. While she recognized the benefits of giving students hands-on outdoor experiences, she understood that the increasing demands on classroom time would make it difficult for teachers to justify time outside of their own classrooms to visit the AOLC. So Davies developed programs that satisfy state academic standards while allowing the students to connect with nature.
Ford’s commitment to the center and what it can teach students runs so deep she became trained as a school bus driver and is now able to transport classes from their schools to the AOLC for programs. Often she drives students to the program, presents it herself, and is then the one ushering them back on the bus and returning them to their school building. Ford also coordinates annual community clean-up days to get others involved in environmental stewardship.