Conservation Education … Through the Lens of Birds
By Jared Teutsch, Executive Director
Through our mission to build places where birds and people thrive, Georgia Audubon works to educate and engage Georgians of all ages. And we use birds as the lens through which we introduce youth and adults alike to birds, birding, and an overall conservation ethic. In the past year, Georgia Audubon’s educational programs have been taking flight in the metro area and across Georgia.
Beginning in September, our Georgia Urban Ecologists program will again be offered for new and returning students in Atlanta, as well as in the Athens-Clarke County area. This program provides teens with fun, hands-on outdoor learning experiences with environmental nonprofit organizations while introducing them to conservation careers.
In this program, students get much-needed time outdoors where they learn about wildlife, native plants, water quality, waste management, and more from an exciting lineup of new and returning partners. Some highlights from last year’s sessions were visiting the largest bat bridge roost site in Georgia with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, seeing birds up close at the Panola Mountain Banding Station, and a campfire and bioblitz at Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve. Many students in the Atlanta program have participated throughout high school and several have continued on to college to pursue conservation careers. Thanks to donor support, students with financial hardship are able to participate in the program tuition-free.
Training educators how to teach students about birds and conservation has a multiplier effect as teachers return to their school systems to share their knowledge with classrooms full of students. To that end, Georgia Audubon’s three-day Taking Wing professional development workshops immerse teachers in place-based, bird-related experiences and science, coupled with active demonstrations of how to successfully engage students in STEM and meaningful outdoor learning experiences. Teachers receive a pair of binoculars, Georgia Audubon’s Learning About Birds Curriculum, and books, field guides, and posters to take back to the classroom. Follow-up workshops in the fall and spring extend the learning and enable teachers to share teaching ideas. In 2022, Taking Wing was offered on St. Simon’s Island and at Lake Oconee, and we will be offering the training in different parts of Georgia each year.
One of last year’s participants from McLendon Elementary, a Title I school in DeKalb County, not only incorporated birds into her lessons regularly, she also installed window feeders at the school, started a bird club, and mentored a team in their first Georgia Youth Birding Competition.
Georgia Audubon’s Connecting Students with STEM through Birds program allows us to bring even more resources to teachers and schools with additional tools they need to teach students about birds and the environment. As part of this program—provided at no cost to each partner school—a bird-friendly native plant garden is installed on campus with the help of students and teachers. Areas of dirt and turf grass are transformed into valuable wildlife habitat, and teachers receive training to provide standards-based lesson ideas and curriculum resources in STEM and other subjects to enhance their use of the new outdoor classroom. In addition, each school partner receives a classroom set of binoculars and field guides, as well as other resources to help teachers instill a conservation ethic in the next generation.
For adults, Georgia Audubon is offering our popular Master Birder program in Atlanta and the Savannah/Hilton Head Island area this fall. We will have two cohorts in Atlanta. A third cohort, co-hosted by Ogeechee Audubon Society and Hilton Head Audubon, is being offered on the coast. This six-week program includes virtual weeknight courses in bird classification and identification, birding apps, equipment, bird songs, bird ecology, anatomy, and physiology, bird behavior, flight and migration, and conservation. Weekend field trips with birding experts reinforce lessons learned in the class and help participants hone bird ID skills. Upon graduation, Georgia Audubon Master Birders are encouraged to complete annual volunteer service hours for Georgia Audubon or their local Audubon chapter. Scholarships are available.
From youth to teachers to adults, Georgia Audubon is excited to build a network of informed, engaged bird lovers, volunteers, and community scientists in Atlanta and across Georgia.