At Athens Community School, we have a unique Friday afternoon program called Learning Power. In this mock community, students choose a group to join for the year where they learn and practice real-life skills. This year, my group is a 4-H Club. In 4-H, children “learn by doing” while applying life skills, strengthening the fundamentals of the Learning Power program. This group of eight children, ranging in age from seven to fourteen, affectionately nicknamed their club “Mrs. Dwyer’s Barnyard” (I am a farmer when I’m not teaching)—“MDB,” for short.
Our group is interested in a variety of topics and activities, but all of the students love being outside. This is what ignited their interest in designing a project with help from an NRCM grant.
MDB decided that they were most interested in exploring local wildlife, especially after observing tracks and other animal signs near the school grounds. They decided they would love to see what the local critters were up to on the playground after hours. Our grant-funded project is the purchase and installation of a game camera for observation. In addition to simply monitoring wildlife, the group plans to build bird and butterfly houses to attract additional wildlife to the area. These animal homes will be built with assistance from high school carpentry students from the Somerset County Technical Center (SCTC). This joint effort gives the students additional opportunity for cooperation and learning from one another.
With these observation tools, students will not only research and learn from local wildlife, but will also be able to share their findings and experiences with the rest of the children in our Pre-K through 8th grade school. Photos and stories will also be shared with the community at large via our school website.
The best thing about this project is that it is ongoing. The camera and wildlife homes can be utilized by the children of Athens for years to come, and will help them gain a better understanding of and appreciation for local wildlife.
by Kassie Dwyer