George Junior Republic Union Free School District

December 1st – September 15th, 2013
Freeville, NY

The teachers, teaching assistants, and students over at George Junior Republic UFSD in Freeville, NY pursued a project that integrated habitat creation, wildlife observation, and artistic inspiration on the school grounds in the fall of 2013.

Before the program began, project leader Dawn Marie George shared the Agency’s motivations for the enterprise with us:

“Traditionally, my students are successful with hands-on, experiential learning opportunities. Very often, the pride students feel from having successful learning outcomes with these experiences spills over into their academic subjects, where otherwise reluctant and resistant readers and writers make genuine efforts to read and write about what they’ve just learned — especially when they can turn around and teach it to someone else. I have no doubt that with a project like this, students will seek to bring their social workers, parents/guardians, family members, staff and even teachers and other students to the bird watching garden, and eagerly educate them about all aspects of the project. We hope it will have a true ripple effect!”

During the school year, the students learned about the CUBS focal species and how to identify and observe them, and in the spring when the school year ended, there was an open house where the students shared their knowledge with the guests and explained that Phase 2 of the project would begin in September, outlined below.

Typically, students at GJR UFSD don’t have rural backgrounds and are therefore especially curious about the natural environment around them in Freeville, becoming more engaged in active learning with the outdoors than they tend to exhibit in a classroom setting.

The students built different bird-feeding stations that offered various types of bird feed, using wooden stakes they painted with pot-trays on top that were put in the newly-planted bird garden. This garden, filled with bird-friendly bushes and plants, was strategically positioned across from the classroom’s large south-facing window. Given the easy visibility, the students set up an observation station complete with binoculars, Celebrate Urban Birds data collection sheets, and field guides.

The different feeders offered avian guests peanuts (in the shell), whole corn, a commercial “fruit and nut” mix, black oil sunflower seeds, millet, and a commercial “wild bird” mix. Students also made their own suet from beef tallow, peanut butter and bird seed, and observed which bird species frequented each type of seed the most and hypothesized as to why they had strong preferences for any specific seed types.

Working in pairs, students have been observing these feeders for 10-minute periods several times a week, identifying and counting the species visiting the garden with the help of Peterson and Audubon field guides in addition to the CUBs focal species material.

To learn more about the William George Agency’s history, click here; the George Junior Republic Union Free School District’s website can be reached here.

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