Connecting Students with Nature

Oct 3, 2023

—Adapted from an article by Leonel Lainez.

The author and students visit the Waquoit Bay Reserve to see the ospreys in person.

At the beginning of my
AmeriCorps Cape Cod journey, I was assigned to work with Joan Muller, the education coordinator from Waquoit Bay Reserve, and Nancy Church, a board member from the Friends of Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge. Together, we were tasked with developing an educational program about ospreys using a live webcam at the Reserve

As a person of color who speaks Spanish as a first language, I noticed a struggle that no one could see. Students who were not proficient in English, or did not have English as their first language, refrained from speaking up. This inspired me to create a citizen scientist project for English Language Development (ELD) students to help them feel more comfortable and confident in their abilities to participate. 

Each spring at the Reserve, we welcome the arrival of Rachel and Carson—our favorite local osprey pair—on the live webcam. In the winter 2022, I began reaching out to learning specialists for guidance and connecting with teachers who work with ELD students locally. We coordinated a meeting to discuss ways to make this project interactive for the students. After learning that ospreys migrated to the Cape from South America, I saw how these sea hawks could create a connection between the students and their homelands. We also created a way for the students to observe the ospreys’ behavior and activity using the live webcam.

Prepping students with a presentation about ospreys.

In March, before the arrival of the ospreys from South America, I presented the project to two ELD classrooms and provided some basic information about ospreys. The students were excited to learn more and to welcome the ospreys in late March. 

Once the ospreys arrived, the teachers dedicated time in their classes for the students to observe them and write down what they saw. During this time, I visited the schools again to give another presentation and see how the students were doing. This time, I focused on the adaptation and behaviors of ospreys. Students from one of the schools created poems and drawings they wanted to share with me after my first visit.

“I am an Osprey. I have yellow eyes, giant wings, my bill is curved, and my tail is in my back. My height is 2 and a half feet. My wingspan is 5 and a half ft. I migrated from Cape Cod to Brazil when started in Cape Cod. 

I eat fish, because I am a migratory bird I don’t have a specific fish to eat. I have a guard call, a scream call, an alarm call, and a solicitation call. 

After I return from my migration [route from Brazil] my partner came back to the nest we had the last time but if he doesn’t I would need to find another partner. During the courtship, when the birds pick a mate, the male calls to the female and flies over the nest carrying a fish or nest material to prove he is a strong flier and good provider. His sky dance may last ten minutes. If I like him I would let him land beside me.”

Ryllar, student at Morse Pond School.

In June, both classes joined me at the Reserve for a field day and a tour of the campus. With the help of Reserve staff, I facilitated activities such as an interactive board game that highlights ospreys’ different life stages, migration, and behavior. We also played a DDT Game that illustrated the ospreys’ food chain. We looked at Rachel and Carson through binoculars and spotting scopes. This was the most exciting moment of the day because the students got to see the ospreys they were studying and witness them flying around campus.

This project helped ELD students feel more comfortable participating in class, but it was also a valuable learning experience for all of the students. They were able to connect with nature and learn about ospreys’ migration patterns and behavior. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked on this project and for the support and guidance from all the individuals involved.

The author at the pond study site where he first met the students from the ELD program.

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ReservesConnecting Students with Nature