Outdoor Classroom

All Hacienda students eagerly anticipate their many “field trips” to the amazing outdoor classroom during weekly science lab sessions and outdoor workdays. Begun in 1971, Hacienda’s one-acre outdoor science classroom is a living laboratory for young scientists to explore plant and animal communities native to the Santa Clara Valley and surrounding foothills. A running stream system flows from the redwood forest down to a cattail-lined marsh and pond, representing the local Guadalupe watershed. More than 100 species of native plants attract a diversity of wildlife, from nesting mallard ducks and Cooper’s hawks to western fence lizards, monarch butterflies and much more. Students form a positive, personal connection with the natural environment from these memorable sights and experiences in Hacienda’s “nature acre.”

The Santa Clara Valley ecosystems studied by students in Hacienda’s outdoor classroom include:

1. Oak woodland
2. Coast redwood forest
3. Valley grassland
4. Riparian zone (streamside area)
5. Chaparral
6. Pond and marsh

Outdoor Workdays

Our unique outdoor classroom is maintained entirely by Hacienda’s parents, students and dedicated staff. We need all our families’ help to keep the outdoor science classroom in tip-top shape by attending one or more workdays each school year. Check the Hacienda home page calendar for dates and times.

A History of the Outdoor Classroom at Hacienda Environmental Science Magnet

In 1971, when Hacienda Environmental Science Magnet was known as Valley View School, a teacher named Edy Young and her principal, Fred Ross, decided to create and innovative science program. Central to the program was the concept of an outdoor science lab where teachers could provide “hands on” science to connect students with the natural world. At a time when the native plants and animals were beginning to vanish from developing San Jose neighborhoods, Valley View teachers saw the importance of creating a space where students could learn about and develop a personal connection to the natural world.

Students submitted drawings of what they would like in the outdoor science lab, and from these ideas they developed the concept of representing the various plant communities found in the Santa Clara Valley and surrounding foothills.

After receiving a $1,000 teacher innovation grant from the board of education, the school’s parents, teachers, and students began transforming a flat, weedy, one-acre lot into the Outdoor Classroom. 150 pickup truckloads of orchard topsoil were hauled in to create hills in the chaparral area. The area was fenced, irrigation lines were laid, and the ponds and stream bed were dug. In 1974, Carolyn Flanagan joined the committed parents and staff as the science resource teacher as they began pouring concrete to line the ponds and stream bed. They planted redwood and oak seedlings that eventually grew into the mature redwood forest and oak woodlands that now tower over students as they study the variety of wildlife they attract.

In 1977, the science program was eliminated and the outdoor classroom was abandoned and overgrown with weeds. Many teachers who were new to the school were unaware that an outdoor science lab even existed until they had been at Valley View for several months. Then in the early 1980s, a fire destroyed the closed cone pine forest and chaparral areas. As a result, all of the hills were bulldozed and many Oregon grape plants were removed, leaving the science program and lab at Valley View in disarray. During this time, Hacienda school in Almaden Valley became a science magnet as part of a desegregation order to provide another option for district students to attend.

Then, Hacienda’s science magnet program was moved from Almaden Valley to the Valley View site in 1982 due to its more central location and long forgotten outdoor science lab. Edy Young was rehired to develop the science curriculum. Carolyn Flanagan returned as the science resource teacher in 1988 and worked to reclaim the outdoor classroom through hard work by the school community and several grants to buy new plants. The San Jose Water Company joined Hacienda as an “adopt a school” partner and paid for much of the renovation of the outdoor classroom to redo the ponds, pumps and sprinkler system.

In 1992, the parent and staff group funded and built the upgraded outdoor classroom seating area where students now study science when weather permits. Maintenance of the outdoor science lab continues to be the responsibility of the Hacienda school community. Parents, students, and teachers continue to apply for grants, weed out non-native plants, muck the ponds, build pathways and nurture new native plants. 40 years later, Hacienda students gain a personal sense of appreciation for the outdoors and environmental science thanks to the hard work and vision of the many teachers, parents, students and community partners whose efforts have created this amazing island of nature here at Hacienda.