Grant funding gets students outdoors

More students are experiencing all the wonders nature has to offer thanks to new grant funding. It all started last year with the Big Share meeting, convened by Margaret Van Clief of The Nature Conservancy. This meeting brings together environmental educators on the Eastern Shore  to share ideas, brainstorm creative topics to promote learning, enjoy networking and lunch, and in this case last year; tour the rocket launch facility at NASA Wallops Island. It was during this meeting that Lynn Bowen of the ES Migrant Head Start broached the need for outdoor education and off site field trips for her students. And it was during this meeting where the idea of bringing migrant students to the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge took off.

The refuge applied for grant funding from the ES Soil and Water District and was awarded the funds earlier this year. The goal was to support a Monarch Education program for the Migrant Head Start Students in Cheriton, and transportation to and from field trip sites. Migrant students move throughout the year with seasonal crops. So does the monarch butterfly.  Monarchs inspire people; their habitat provides outdoor recreation opportunities like hunting and wildlife observation. Unfortunately, habitat loss and fragmentation has occurred throughout the monarch’s range; and field trips to the refuge for migrant students was a great way to educate future generations.

Grant funds were utilized to purchase bus passes from STAR Transit. John Maher, transit manager, gave the first group of 17 students aged 3-4 and adults a rare treat of riding in their brand new bus down to the refuge. It was during that field trip in late June of this year that students learned about the monarch’s lifecycle, habitat, and their migration from the U.S. to Mexico. Students also had the opportunity to take a butterfly walk to the pollinator gardens with Refuge Volunteers Barry and Caroline Hughes, both vacationing work camping volunteers from Texas. A second field trip in late July allowed the students to assemble huge butterfly life-cycle floor puzzles, observe butterflies and birds from the indoor wildlife viewing area with Park Ranger Rosalie Valente.  Dedicated Refuge Volunteers Kathy Fountaine, Bob Toner and Susan Russell facilitated learning stations which included an indoor touch tank and an interactive story about butterflies. Another outdoor pollinator garden walk was also facilitated.

As if two field trips weren’t enough, students were treated again to a third trip in early September to the Cape Charles Memorial Library. There, Librarians Anne Routledge and Sharon Silvey facilitated story and song time, along with indoor crafts with the group of 12 3-4 year old students. Many of the students had never visited a library before. Students also went on a birding walk to the Cape Charles Fishing Pier, where Refuge Volunteers Joe Woodward and Midge Franco pointed out Ospreys and Gulls to the students.

Throughout this series of three field trips, students had the opportunity to experience the outdoors and connect with nature in a unique way. The language barrier didn’t prove to be a challenge, as once students saw Butterflies (or Mariposas-in Spanish) and Birds (pajaros-in Spanish);  their curiosities were sparked and this allowed for a unique learning opportunity that is experienced outdoors and with the assistance of dedicated volunteers, staff members, and agencies on the shore. The results of this was possible due in large part to Margret Van Clief’s Big Share meeting, where not only the need for outdoor education for migrant students was shared, but also new partnerships.

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