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Leading the next generation out into the field!

Manzanita students view the Oracle Road wildlife bridge with binoculars on loan from the Tucson Audubon Society. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

by Jessica Moreno

It was a clear, crisp day on March 6, and the freshly brewed coffee was almost as invigorating as the arrival of several school bus-loads of fourth graders and parents from Manzanita Elementary. Over 100 curious minds boiled out into the lower parking lot of the Santa Catalina Catholic Church on Oracle Road just south of the wildlife bridge. “Critter Cam Day” had arrived.

Coalition volunteers were already stationed around the seven activity tents laid out around the parking lot, as kids split into organized groups led by teachers Charlotte Ackerman and Jennifer DeBenedetti of the Manzanita Robotics Club. These students have been sorting and studying the Coalition’s wildlife camera photos as part of a new 4-week curriculum developed by Ackerman and DeBenedetti in partnership with CSDP. Today, they would have a field day.

Thanks to the Tucson Audubon Society, Manzanita students had access to spotting scopes for a better view of the Oracle Road wildlife bridge. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

It may not be surprising that the activities held their rapt attention and their colorful field guides, made especially for this day, were quick to be filled. Finely timed rotating activities included a spotting scope station to view the wildlife bridge and mapping points of interest. Mark Hart with Arizona Game and Fish Department taught wildlife tracks and track tracing skills. Wildlife rehabilitator and CSDP volunteer Kathie Schroeder and her outreach hawk Sueño shared the adaptations of Harris’s hawks and other birds of prey. Mr. Packrat brought a guest too – and shared the desert adaptions of native packrats. Stations also included games and activities to teach camouflage techniques and the importance of pheromones and scents. And of course, the day would not be complete without a guided nature walk to check a wildlife camera!

Throughout the morning, students and parents were absorbing the skills and knowledge of naturalists and scientists and giving back a thirst for more. As we met around the leftover coffee and homemade granola bars after the day was done, teachers, volunteers, and guest contributors all agreed that very few improvements could be made to this positive and inspiring day. The success of this event is something we hope to repeat, and expand next year. Eventually, we hope this will be a curriculum that can be packaged and adopted by other TUSD schools. Not unlike the critters now crossing new bridges, these students are poised to bridge the divide between knowing – and doing.

Coalition Desert Monitors Jeff Stensrud and Carl Boswell lead students out into the field to see their critter cameras in action! Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

Read the latest story about Critter Cam Day in the Oro Valley Explorer, here.

Check out this fantastic video about Critter Cam Day produced by the Catalina Foothills School District:

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