How the Outdoors Transformed the Life of a Student

Buddy Bison School Program teacher, Heimy Salgado from West Education Campus in Washington, DC sits down with us to talk about the magic parks have worked on her students. At the start of last year her male students preferred playing video games. Now 90% of them would rather play in nature!


How do you work outdoor education into your curriculum beyond field trips?

Ms. Salgado: When I first started the program, I worked to provide the students and their families with information on activities they could do at nearby parks. To make this a learning experience for the students, I taught them how to read local maps so they could find other parks near their homes. Students then had to present research on a park near them with PowerPoint presentations, board displays, and flyers, which they handed out to parents and members of the community. Now, the students and their families have become energized and excited about finding and visiting their local parks and leading a more active life.

Before each field trip I connect the classroom to the outdoors so the students feel empowered, prepared, and excited to see what we have studied indoors and discover for themselves what it looks like outdoors. When preparing for a canoeing trip, we studied different methods of water conservation. In the student’s eyes, it is more than a field trip, they become explorers seeking out what we’ve talked about in class.


How did the outdoors affect your students?

Ms. Salgado: I had one student with severe behavior problems at the beginning of the school year, he couldn’t focus and sometimes became aggressive when he was uncomfortable or felt challenged. I tried to teach him in a lot of ways but nothing was working. When we started thinking about ways to learn outdoors something clicked for him and he became really engaged.

When we went canoeing he received a compliment from the instructor leading his canoe and it made his day, it made his week, it made his month! From there on, he began to feel more confident and became a leader in the outdoors. He needed that adventure and activity as an outlet for his energy but it also became his connection to the information I was teaching. I was able to model my planning for him in a way that would allow him to do projects outdoors. Every STEM project he did was outdoors. He explored the different animals that are in DC and did a project on that. It completely changed how the class saw him, how I saw him, and how he saw himself.

Outside of the classroom he has also gone on to be a much more active kid. When I first met him his only hobby was video games, now he asks other students “why would you play video games when you can go outside?”


How do you incorporate the outdoors in your lesson plans?

Ms. Salgado: I adapted one of the Buddy Bison School Program lessons that focus on the different types of parks there are in our country to instead look only at the parks in our area. By doing this, I didn’t have to do as much planning and the students had easier access to what we were studying.

To start the lesson we looked at maps, learned how to find parks that were near us, and then made presentations on the parks the students were most interested in. This project provided students with multiple ways of learning the same information.

This project in particular really helped to transform one of my students who had been very quiet, she fell in love with the stories behind the parks and it sparked an interest in her to learn all she could about each park. She became so passionate about the project that other students talk about how she will be a park ranger when she grows up.


Can you tell our readers how you use Buddy Bison in your classroom?

Ms. Salgado: In the beginning, the students would take turns taking you out to national parks. They were very excited to hear from each other where Buddy Bison had been over each weekend. Now each student has their own Buddy Bison, they bring him to school attached to their backpacks. They talk about the next trip that they’re gonna take and that they’re going to take their Buddy out.


How has your classroom changed since starting the program?

Ms. Salgado: It’s made the actual content I teach more engaging because students know that they will be able to go out and do something with what we have learned in the classroom.

For example, when the students went hiking, they came back and talked about how they get thirsty, and that when you exercise you need to hydrate. Other students focused on the animals that we might have in Washington, DC. These are things that I didn’t have to tell them. They found it on their own and because of that they have a stronger connection to the information than if they had just learned it from a book. The students have realized they’re active learners and shouldn’t expect teachers to tell them everything. They feel empowered to go out and learn on their own. They’ve learned that the “park” in their own backyard has something to teach them.

The parents have also changed considerably, and with having an Every Kid in a Park Pass they are now planning family vacations around visiting parks, something that none of them considered at the start of the school year.


How many families are planning park trips?

Ms. Salgado: I would say that 60% of the parents are thinking about ways to get their kids to a national park. Before this program, many of the families relied heavily on video games and TV to entertain their children during the weekend and in summer. Now they’re talking about how important is that their kids go out to play and learn. It’s definitely made a huge impact within the community.


Want to learn more about incorporating parks into your classroom? Check out the school resources on our website, or contact our Director of Youth Programs Billy Schrack with your questions:, 301-279-7275.