News & Events

New Elementary School Bird Education Program Takes Learning to New Heights

Author: Lilly Schneider | 06/22/22

Group of kids holding up sketches in a foerest

Students from Salish Coast Elementary on a field trip in the Quimper Wildlife Corridor.

Over the 2021-22 school year, Jefferson Land Trust expanded our youth education programming with an exciting new year-long bird project with three third-grade classes and two multi-age OPEPO (OPtional Education PrOgram) class of second, third, fourth, and fifth graders at Salish Coast Elementary School in Port Townsend.

Two boys in the forest with clipboards.

Students in the Quimper Wildlife Corridor.

Birds are not only interesting and iconic, they’re also great teachers for a variety of subjects (physics, biology, ecology, food chains, seed dispersal, forest structure and more). This new project is comprehensive (built across the whole school year), expansive (folds in an array of activities, projects, and skill-building opportunities), and hands on, with in-the-field learning at our Quimper Wildlife Corridor preserve led by Carrie Clendaniel, Land Trust Preserve Manager, who oversees our youth education programming.

At the beginning of the school year, the teachers — “an amazing, enthusiastic, and energetic group of people,” says Carrie — kicked off the project with bird-based lessons and activities in the classroom. Then, in January, the students joined Carrie for the first of two field trips to the Quimper Wildlife Corridor. There, they learned the basics of birding, such as binocular use; discussed and observed birds’ habitats, movements, and needs; did a scavenger hunt and other learning games; and, overall, began to understand what birds need to survive and thrive in this world.

Photo of an Anna's Hummingbird by Wendy Feltham

Anna’s Hummingbird. Photo by Wendy Feltham.

Back in the classroom, says Carrie, the teachers “really took the bird theme and ran with it,” using birds as the impetus for a variety of other learning opportunities throughout the school year. Through art projects, science projects, writing exercises, mapping activities, and more, students built critical skills while gaining a deep understanding of these extraordinary creatures.

Over winter and into spring, they learned about wildlife migration (some species of birds travel thousands of miles every year!) and studied how nests are constructed. They learned about how birds have adapted, through unique wingspans, beaks, and feathers, to better stay aloft or to live in different environments. They even installed a birdfeeder within viewing distance of their classroom. The most frequently observed species during daily bird observation was one that most residents of our region can quickly identify: gulls. This inspired the students to take a special interest in shorebirds.

Whiteboard on counter by window recording birds observed.

Students observed daily bird activity around the bird feeder in view of their classroom.

In May, it was time to cap off the year’s learning with the second and final field trip to the Quimper Wildlife Corridor with Jefferson Land Trust staff and volunteers. This time, the students were able to identify the birds they saw and heard — Spotted Towhees, Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks, Dark-eyed Juncos, and even a Pileated Woodpecker — as well as share educated observations, connections, and knowledge about them.

“Students were really excited to hear birds in different parts of the canopy and were able to connect where birds lived in the canopy with the kinds of foods they eat, or the sort of shelters they need,” Carrie says. “It was so exciting to see such extreme growth in the students’ knowledge over the school year.”

She adds, “We also had a lot of in-depth discussions about the challenges birds face, like predators, loss of clean water sources and habitat, and disturbance from loud activities.”

Inspired by what they learned this year, and troubled by the challenges bird populations currently face, these students, along with the Salish Elementary fourth grade classes — who participated in a similarly structured program built around forest health and diversity — decided to make a photo video project call to action about what we can do right here in Jefferson County to support our local birds. You can view it here.

Going forward, we hope not only to continue this program, but also to improve upon it to better suit the needs of students and teachers, ensure the content connects to state-level learning curriculums and guidelines, and streamline our programming from first grade all the way through middle school, so that each new year of learning builds upon the previous year.

Two girls in raincoats holding weeds and shovels.

Grace and Ava, 2022 Youth Corps Interns, pulling up tansy ragwort, a noxious weed toxic to deer and elk.

For many years, Jefferson Land Trust has been creating high-impact, long-lasting educational programs to support what students and teachers are doing in the classroom. Typically, in the model we’ve been building over the last decade, first and second graders focus on the Salish Sea ecosystem, including salmon, with trips to Chimacum Creek at Illahee Preserve; third graders learn about birds; fourth graders focus on forest health; and in middle school, students learn about forest diversity and habitat restoration and undertake important restoration projects on Land Trust preserves. During spring break, our Youth Corps paid internship program invites high school students to learn about stream and forest health and undertake important restoration projects on our preserves. Coming out of the pandemic, we’re seeing an increased interest from schools in education programs that get students outside to learn, socialize, and build skills they can apply to the real world.

Grant Street Elementary School first and second graders come to Chimacum Creek with us every year. They release the coho salmon fry they have been raising in school and have a blast learning and playing out on the land! Photo by Wendy Feltham.

Students releasing the coho salmon fry they raised into Chimacum Creek.
Photo by Wendy Feltham.

We’re proud to have been able to work with more than 300 students from the Port Townsend, Chimacum, and Quilcene school districts over the 2021-22 school year. As we build our educational programs, we know we’ll continue to rely on the enthusiasm and hard work of amazing educators, administrators, and volunteers — like those who made this year’s bird project such a resounding success.

“I can’t stress enough how wonderful the teachers who we work with are,” says Carrie. “I also want to recognize the volunteers who helped make this program happen: Monica Fletcher, Ken Wilson, Laura Joshel, Devon Buckham, and Herb Tracy. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Denise Aeden, librarian and STEM specialist.”