Urban Birds Program soars

By Queens Courier Staff |

First graders from P.S. 228 got a chance to learn about their environment while having fun outside the classroom by observing neighborhood birds as part of the Celebrate Urban Birds Program.

The students became reporters and scientists while learning about birds around their neighborhoods from late February until May and then displayed their findings at a special party on Friday, June 3.

Belkis Parache, the first grade teacher, said that the program taught the students in many different ways.

“This was a way to add reading and writing with the arts,” said Parache. “Their curiosity just grew and grew and their observational skills also.”

The program is sponsored by an annual Cornell University mini-grant that is given to educate children about their environment and to serve as a valuable learning experience.

Karen Steuerwalt, a professor in the department of Elementary and Early Childhood at Queens College, wrote the proposal which won the grant from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and donated the award to P.S. 228.

“Children aren’t [playing] outside anymore and if you’re not outside, you are not going to have that connection to the natural world,” said Steuerwalt who added that the school was a perfect fit for the program.

While the students, parents and teachers enjoyed snacks and drinks, the children displayed a painted mural of their neighborhood which showed where they have seen birds before with handmade bird cut-outs. Then they posted details about their work in the school playground for all to see. To end their celebration they all sang about habitats and nature.

Parache taught the students and guided them through the program with the help of Queens College graduate students, but they said the children did the work on their own.

Raffaele Stuparitz, a visiting artist, showed the students how to create birds and made the background for the mural, but he was surprised at how the students completed the work without supervision.

“They came up with the idea to draw birds,” said Stuparitz. “They’re just very engaged and very insightful.”

The first graders learned about birds in the city and then compared bird’s habitats to human’s leading to the conclusion that the two species need many of the same things such as air, water, shelter and family.

Then – to get a better picture of the birds in their area – the students hung bird feeders filled with seeds in the school playground and quietly watched the birds for several weeks.

The students noted that they saw sparrows, rock pigeons and white pigeons.

They also authored a book documenting their experience in caring for birds and monitoring the animals.

Maria Jeffery – whose son Aden would ask to go bird watching on Saturdays – was surprised by how involved her son got with the project.

“I’m both grateful and taken aback because I really didn’t think my son could retain so much positive information and appreciation for his neighborhood,” said Jeffery.

Birds weren’t the end of the program though, the students also learned about plants.

They sprouted sunflower seeds, marigold seeds and roman beans.

At the end of the celebration each student was given an award for their hard work and together with the Queens College representative presented P.S. 228 Principal Olga Guzman with a potted hibiscus.

“Their work validates the belief that if you expect the best of children they will give you the best and they will go beyond that,” said Guzman.