The Nature of Nature

Graduate School of Education Student Research Looks into the Nature of Nature

January 04, 2022
Student Researcher Melissa Davis
Melissa Davis

People from certain generations are probably familiar with the urging of a parent to “go outside and play.”

The research of one Graduate School of Education student, Melissa Davis, aims to determine whether there might have been something beneficial to that. Her focus is on what’s called Social Emotional Learning, (SEL).

Davis earned her teaching credential through Touro in 2016 and now, as a Master’s student in the Innovative Learning program, she finds herself at a perfect, albeit trying, intersection for research.

“My research is based around social emotional learning, the curriculum that I use, and studying students’ behaviors in varying environments,” Davis said, meaning in a classroom setting – or a virtual setting more recently – or outdoors learning in nature.

After working a few years in Alternative Education settings, Davis has seen the need for this type of educational exposure directly.

“I see the need and the rising numbers of student populations in the continuation school settings and realized that SEL curriculum is an absolute necessity for this population of students,” Davis said.

And this isn’t something Davis knows about simply from academic ventures. Growing up in Alaska and Washington, being “outdoorsy” is less of an option and more of a necessity of life. While the Napa Valley where she works is certainly scenic, natural settings are still somewhat out of reach for many students.

“I don’t think students here in northern California are fortunate enough to be immersed in outdoor education,” she said. “Although the resources and beautiful nature is around us, how do we get these kids outside? The digital world is coming at us at such a pace, it’s hard to keep up with. So I am not interested in screen time vs. outside time, I am interested in building bright futures by gaining student awareness to their own mental health and the benefits of both nature and digital immersed learning.”

The impact on student mental health has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. Many students are struggling with the mental health stresses the pandemic has cause, making this research vitally important to Davis.

“I have found that prioritizing my students’ mental health is just as important as subject and content matter,” Davis said. “I have noticed an increase of sadness, depression, addiction and a lack of overall well-being. My students are the marginalized and disenfranchised students of the upper valley, therefore it is my moral duty and responsibility to put them first and give them an equitable opportunity to understand social emotional learning and how to build healthy lifestyles that they can carry into their future.”