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Outdoor Learning

The outdoor spaces that mark our campus are learning opportunities that expand the four walls of the classroom. Learning about the natural world through ecoliteracy curriculum happens in our organic garden, butterfly garden, and in areas purposefully designed to preserve and sustain the ecosystem that surrounds us.

Our Gardens

Mark Day School has two intentional garden spaces on campus where students can learn outside the classroom—an organic garden where students take care of our four chickens, grow and maintain plants and veggies, become stewards of the worm bin, and explore the natural world up close and a butterfly garden located between our lower and middle divisions with plants designed to attract local butterflies and special woodpiles to encourage propagation. These outdoor learning spaces have been created and cared for by school families and are integrated into the curriculum by our garden teacher.

Outdoor Education

Students in r grades 3-8 explore the natural world during unique and rewarding overnight experiences. Outdoor Education trips are invaluable in strengthening students’ relationships, both with one another and with their teachers. Students develop self-reliance, independence, cooperation, and trust. They gain an appreciation of wilderness areas, insight into human interdependence with the environment, and awareness of the delicate ecological balance. Trained outdoor educators lead the students in fun and challenging activities. Where relevant, teachers integrate students’ outdoor experience with the science, history, and ecological literacy curricula. 

2023-2024 Outdoor Ed Trips:

  • 3rd grade: 3 days and 2 nights of hiking, group bonding, and examining the animals, plants, and biodiversity of Marin County, with a focus on animal adaptation.
  • 4th grade: Coloma Outdoor Discovery School for 3 days of living history, hiking, and learning about local plants and animals and indigenous cultures
  • 5th grade: Big Sur for 3 days of kayaking, hiking, camping skills, and study of living systems
  • 6th grade: Pinnacles National Park for 4 days of rock climbing, outdoor living skills, hiking, cave exploration, and study of geology and astronomy
  • 7th grade: Yosemite National Park for 5 days of high sierra backpacking, backcountry camping, team building, outdoor living, leave no trace, and learning about geological history
  • 8th grade: Colorado River for 5 days of canoeing, outdoor living, team building, and study of water systems

Campus Sustainability

Environmental sustainability and responsible world citizenship are core values at Mark Day School. They are put into practice every day by our whole community, from teaching environmental literacy to composting and recycling to designing our campus in order to reduce our energy usage, gas consumption, and overall waste.

In 2019, our Learning Commons and Creativity Lab Project was awarded LEED Platinum status, the highest available, for its environmentally sustainable design. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. It is the first school project to achieve LEED Platinum in San Rafael and one of only three in all of Marin County. LEED certification provides independent verification of a building’s green features, allowing for the design, construction, operations, and maintenance of resource-efficient, high-performing, healthy, cost-effective buildings. LEED certification means healthier, more productive places, reduced stress on the environment by encouraging energy and resource-efficient buildings, and savings from increased building value and decreased utility costs. The building was also awarded the Green California Outstanding Building Leadership Award for Zero Net Energy.

The green elements of these new learning and community spaces include:

  • Solar panels: Solar panels are installed on the roof of our gym, Lower School, and Arts and Science buildings. We generate enough electrical power to be carbon-neutral and run up to 100% of school activities, depending on the time of year, to contribute to the decrease in reliance on fossil fuels, live more greenly here on campus, and give students the ability to monitor our electricity production and energy use.
  • Bioswales: Around our campus, five bioswales are interwoven throughout our landscape to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water to slow the speed of runoff during heavy storms to allow more water to percolate into the aquifer. Our campus is part of the Gallinas Creek Watershed, and we are part of a larger San Francisco Bay Area ecosystem that is impacted by our actions. Landscaped with native and drought tolerant plants, these bioswales also never require irrigation.
  • Walls of glass: Based on research that reveals the positive impact of natural light on student outcomes, the Learning Commons and Creativity Lab spaces were designed to bring in the sunshine, including floor-to-ceiling sliding doors that open to our quad. Extensive shade studies throughout the design process maximize light without the glare of direct sun, and the windows mean stringent insulation value to keep the space cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
  • Energy efficiency: Every building system was designed for maximum energy efficiency and occupant health, including the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that circulate fresh air and allow us to bring heat or cool just to where it is needed.
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