We wanted to create something the students would be proud of, and to build awareness about the value of the local ecosystem.
Rob Wilson is a retired teacher and volunteer secretary of the recently formed Yellowhead Flyway Birding Trail Association (YFBTA) in the Saltcoats area in East Central Saskatchewan. Back in 2003 he was looking around the table at the other birdwatching enthusiasts that made up his group, wondering about how to get more young people interested in their hobby. "Most of us are retired in this community, and I thought what we would like to do is find young people out there who might have an interest in birds and birdwatching and get them involved, and if we want the organization to continue, we want to have some initiatives that connect us with young people."
So Rob and other volunteers in their Association decided to put together the YFBTA Youth Program - an innovative example of schools linking with the wisdom of their community to create out of class learning in their own backyard. Coordinators from the YFBTA approached Grade 4 teachers to ask them if they would like to participate in this project. If they agreed, then an Association member would go into the classroom and give a presentation on the local birds in their region.
Walter Farquarson was one of the volunteers on the project, he describes the work as follows. "We invited students to do a work of art portraying a bird that was important to them, and then to write a short essay about why that bird was important. Then We worked with different businesses and sites in the community to display the artwork for the rest of the community to see. Then when Nature Saskatchewan held their annual meeting in Saltcoats - we displayed the artwork there as well."
According to Wilson "We wanted to create something the students would be proud of, and to build awareness about the value of the local ecosystem. By asking students to pick a bird to do a project on, we were hoping for them to learn about the importance of ecosystems, where you live and what you eat. We were also hoping that by raising awareness among the students, we would get to the parents."
It was also important to Wilson that the project have the right tone. "We didn't want to try to create winners and losers, we wanted them to work hard, and produce work that would be displayed, but not to have a competition. We think they came up with some good work."
Once the students had produced the artwork, YFBTA members organized a lunch and bird-walk for students to walk through their own community and learn from one of their own community "experts" about the different bird populations.
According to Wilson, the project was designed with the needs of teachers in mind. "As a retired school teacher, I know that teachers have more than enough on their plate already, we tried to create a program that would add no additional work for teachers. Local coordinators organized the food, the transportation, and the bird-walk, the teachers just had to show up."
This project is a great example of a small community using the expertise and resources already in the community to create a great learning experience for its students. According to Farquarson, this is a good model for the needs of their region. "It is very important to work with what is here. In many of our rural communities we have a limited number of people trying to do too many things, so in this case by working with what we have got and not trying to accomplish new things we work within our bounds."
Rob Wilson would be more than happy to work with teachers or schools in other communities who want to initiate a similar project. Here are some tips that Rob gave for any community groups or schools wanting to do something similar.
For more information, feel free to contact Rob Wilson, Volunteer Secretary of the Yellowhead Flyway Birding Trail Association at (306) 782-0057, email firstname.lastname@example.org.