|Over the past few years, PRBO has received funding to help expand our K-12 program into diverse Bay Area communities. Through a partnership with Literacy for Environmental Justice in Bayview Hunters Point (San Francisco), PRBO has established connections with schools and community members, offering science inquiry activities centered on local birds and their habitats (as told here). We hope that students will develop positive attitudes toward science and that our programs will spark the beginnings of a life-long appreciation of the natural world. With PRBO's recent move to our SF Bay Research Center in Petaluma, California, we are closer to urban areas of the North Bay, enabling us to work with existing environmental education programs in Sonoma County and to connect schools and the community to local natural areas--such as Shollenberger Park, at our front door!--Melissa Pitkin, Director, PRBO Education and Outreach|
"Who are you?" demands a lanky girl with her hair in beaded braids. Before I can respond, another student reads the board and asks, "Who's 'PRBO--Missy'?" "P-R-B-O" stands for Point Reyes Bird Observatory, the organization I work for, and Missy is my name," I explain. "You mean like Missy Elliott!?" a student shouts. This gets the whole class laughing, and some to start imitating the infamous female rapper. I can't help but laugh. I'm far from the African-American rap artist, with my Scandinavian-German heritage and (some say) Midwestern accent. The teacher intervenes at this point, to get the class to settle down.
"Yes, my name is Missy, but I'm a biologist who works for PRBO to teach people about birds and their habitats. Now I have a few questions for all of you," I challenge them. "Why do people study birds?" I ask, scanning the room for raised hands eager to answer. I spot one toward the back of the room. "Because they're cool!" says the student attached to the hand. "Yes, I think birds are cool too, but there is an even more important reason why biologists study birds. Ornithologists, or bird biologists, know that birds are good 'indicators' of the environment's health.
|Students are captivated by the bird specimen Missy holds. Photo by Alix Blair|
This means they can teach us a lot about how healthy their homes are, which is our home, too." "Do you want to know if the environment, our environment, is healthy?" "Yes!" the grade-four students shout in unison.
It takes me a moment to calm the class, but this is what I look forward to every time I teach. Such moments keep me going--not only in my work to increase environmental awareness but also in my life.
Now it's time for me to reveal one of the stuffed bird specimens, which we use to teach people of all ages about identification of native birds and their amazing adaptations, and to elicit a connection to birds. The students know something exciting is going to come out of the box as soon as they see me reach for it. As you might guess, there is a lot of "oohing" and "ahhing" (which happens regardless of the age group) as I pull out a stuffed Anna's Hummingbird. I often recognize an immediate change in attitude, in even the most withdrawn or brooding student, when the birds come out. This time is no different: I can see it in the children's faces.
After I've explained today's activity and begun handing specimens to the students, it hits me that I have connected with them today! And it only took a little three-gram bird to do it.
|Missy Wipf in her office at PRBO, holds a Northern Flicker study skin. Photo by Claire Peaslee/PRBO|