On Veteran’s Day, a day off when lots of kids might be home watching TV or playing video games, fourth and fifth graders from Bahia Vista Elementary School in San Rafael’s Canal district guided parents and friends through the four distinct bird habitats of Pickleweed Park and explained what they had learned about each habitat and its particular bird life.
The community tour was the culmination of an eight-week program taught by PRBO Conservation Science‘s Bird Education and Awareness in Communities program (BEAC). The goal of the program, funded by the Marin Community Foundation, is to get underserved kids in urban areas to connect with the parks and nature in their communities and to learn about the science of studying birds.
“Since we have been working in this community we have observed a disconnect between students and their awareness of the natural areas of the park,” said Missy Wipf, conservation educator at PRBO. “Our BEAC program addressed this disconnect, including goals of increasing knowledge among students and their families of local birds and the importance of maintaining healthy habitats for birds and people within community green spaces.”
In the Canal neighborhood, as in many underserved communities, schools lack the resources for science education. “Without support for science-based programs like this,” says Juan Rodriguez, principal of Bahia Vista Elementary School, “many students in underserved communities will lose the opportunity to have enriching science experiences both in the classroom and outdoors.”
Pickleweed Park, which is on San Francisco Bay and is home to a variety of bird species, proved the perfect setting for the BEAC program. About 75 students and parents attended the event, which began with a brief presentation about how litter affects bird life. Then the students, assisted by Wipf, broke into four groups representing the four habitats of the park – salt marsh, baywater, upland, and mudflats – and spoke about the birds that inhabit each of the areas.
In addition to teaching the students about the bird species at Pickleweed Park, says Wipf, the BEAC program “taught them scientific observation and identification skills and empowered them to use and share these skills during the student-led tour of Pickleweed Park. We also worked to broaden their perception of science as a career path open to them.”
In addition to the BEAC program, PRBO offers an after school Bird Club program that is offered once each semester and encourages interest in the local bird life of the Park and its habitats. “The club is always full,” said Melissa Pitkin, PRBO Education and Outreach Director. “Since it’s offered after school, kids have the choice of playing or attending bird club, and most choose the club.”
PRBO staff plans to offer the BEAC program again to the next group of fourth and fifth graders at Bahia Vista and use it as a model program to expand to other schools in the Canal community.