As part of Audubon New York’s For the Birds elementary education program, students learned about the natural world of birds through lessons, outdoor trips, neighborhood bird walks and even a field trip to Prospect Park.
Their capstone project, completed on Friday, was creating a habitat outside of the Monitor Street school designed to help birds.
Haley Main, program director for Audubon New York, said the eight-week program ties in environmental education with science, math and even English Language Arts (ELA).
“These are our decision-makers of tomorrow, these are our future leaders,” Main said. “This program focuses on the local habitat and getting students in touch with the community around them and how it supports natural life.”
Especially in an urban environment, Main said, students don’t get a lot of contact with nature. And with such an emphasis on testing in public schools, Main said it’s a challenge to get students outside.
That’s why the program takes a hands-on approach to learning about birds and their natural environment.
“We make observations and we get their hands dirty in the soil,” she said. “It’s a very hands-on program and the students absolutely love it. It’s not something they get to do on a regular basis.”
The project is funded by the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF), which is funded from a $19.5 million settlement between ExxonMobil and the city related to a massive underground oil spill in the community over 50 years ago.
This is the second year Audubon New York has received funding for this program in Greenpoint. Main said she’s been doing For the Birds for 15 years, and she’s still amazed by the response from children.
“It never ceases to amaze me, the wonder that children have, the natural inclination within them to be connected with the world,” she said. “They readily absorb the information and they get very excited about it.”
Fran Agnone, a sustainability coach with the Natural Wildlife Federation, has also been helping the third grade students with their program. Also funded by GCEF, Agnone said she’s been in the school for two-and-a-half years to bring projects that will install a sense of stewardship in the children.
“I help coordinate on the spot while also finding ways to use this all year round, not just for the third grade but for all students as an outdoor classroom,” she said. “That’s something I’m trying to encourage, especially with the park across the street.
“That’s just a natural extension of learning and natural way to install a natural relationship with wildlife and also stewardship of your community,” Agnone added.
Agnone said the For the Birds program helps students connect with something greater than themselves, which she said can be inspiring. It brings excitement to their families, especially when students can apply their lessons directly to what they’re seeing in the world.
“It’s essential for any person to have a relationship with wildlife, to realize that people aren’t the only animals on the planet,” Agnone said.
The program will continue in the fall, when Audubon New York and the Natural Wildlife Federation will start over with a new class of third-grade students. Over the summer, Agnone said she wants to organize a group of student and parent volunteers to water and take care of the plants.
“What’s lovely with all of these projects in Greenpoint is we all really want to work together, so we all really fortify the amount of time we’re here by reinforcing each other’s projects,” Agnone said. “It’s been a really great boost to the community.”