Today, we are hearing from Brianna Patrick, the environmental education supervisor at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge (there she is having a teachable moment). The environmental education crew conducts a pretty impressive program for students in Philly and this year, they extended their lessons into summer camp!
“There he is! There he is!” At just that moment, a tiny, yellow bird whizzed across the trail, landing on the highest branch of a nearby birch tree. A group of 13 rising fifth graders from southwest Philadelphia were elated! They jumped, pointed and loudly whispered that they had found him, the last bird of the birdwatching bingo challenge, an elusive yellow warbler.
If you had met this same group of students just 12 months ago, they probably wouldn’t have noticed that bird. They might have kept on walking or they might not have ventured out to John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at all. Fortunately, things went a bit differently. These students and many more of their classmates from Penrose and Patterson Elementary were Philly Nature Kids. They were participants in a year-long, intensive partnership with John Heinz Refuge staff.
During the school year, our staff met with the students twice each month. First, they brought hands-on lessons to the students’ classrooms, introducing topics like habitats, birding, water quality, and pollination. The month’s second visit was a trip to the refuge to search and study each topic in the field.
This summer in addition to public camps, we offered a special “Philly Nature Kids Junior Ranger Camp”, open only to those students who participated all year. This camp served as a celebration of their hard work in science. Students tried their hands at outdoor skills like fishing, archery, kayaking, and more! It was the first time for nearly all of the students to hold a fishing pole or paddle their own boat. Although they hailed from different schools, the small group bonded quickly. They wholeheartedly (and literally!) jumped into their kayaks, cheering each other on as they launched.
The campers raved most about their fishing experience. Although the refuge’s tidal waters and overhanging trees proved challenging for the amateur anglers, their morale stayed high. Having the chance to try something so new and different left a mark on each of them. Even though no one caught a fish that morning, they were determined to come back and try again. Each of the campers was rewarded with their very own rod and tackle box to do just that. Check out this video of camper Shervon casting her line!
As an urbanite from the Detroit metro area, it was both energizing and inspiring to see the student’s determination as they cast their lines out over the creek. Many of my first outdoor experiences didn’t happen until college when I participated in the Career Discovery Internship Program through the Student Conservation Association. That summer on the refuge shaped both my career and my life today. I’m confident that the experiences our Philly Nature Kids had on the refuge will do the same. They may not all become wildlife biologists, but they will remember the refuge and their first time fishing on Darby Creek for many years to come.