When news of the Bird Sleuth program came to us last fall, a core group of teachers at the Harley School committed to write a project proposal. Our team included science teachers, coordinators for our Microfarm and Maker programs, as well as teachers from each of our school’s three divisions, Lower, Middle and Upper School, plus a school parent. We considered how creating a space to attract birds, and placing the study of birds more centrally in our curriculum, might impact us as a school. As we tapped in to each team member’s skill set to shape our proposal, a sense grew of the valuable teaching resource a designated bird garden could become our school.
Winning the Bird Sleuth grant from Cornell Ornithology Lab was a solid affirmation that our project had real potential, and we began to initiate our plan. Spring was long in coming to Rochester this year. While winter passed, students drew site plans. One design included a winding path through the middle of the garden. This student plan, with its simple path to bring humans closer to birds, was the one we chose. Some design class students drew plans for seating to complement our garden and built two benches. Others designed and built birdhouses. We bought and nursed plants in our greenhouse until danger of frost was over. At last, our seedlings were hardy enough to survive transplanting and we saw a favorable weather forecast. Excitement about the bird garden was high in our school when we announced the May 30 date for groundbreaking.
The site chosen for our bird garden is close to our Middle School science classrooms, with large windows overlooking the area. The science teacher brought her students for three different work shifts! Our Microfarm teacher explained to them the optimum depth to dig, how to break up a root-ball, and the importance of watering new plants, and described how birds will forage for berries and seeds the new flowers and shrubs will produce. We noticed plenty of bird activity as students took turns digging holes and putting in the plants. While some handled shovels, other children tried out our new binoculars and saw sparrows, mourning doves, red-winged black birds and grackles flying about, as if in eager anticipation for the garden to open!
The greatest good our garden will bring is yet to come. The plants will mature and produce the food to attract and, hopefully, sustain a diverse population of birds. Teacher and student awareness of our connection to the garden and to birds will also grow as we live in close proximity to our new bird garden and see it from season to season. We want to increase our knowledge of birds to better use the garden as a teaching tool, so a visit this fall to the Cornell Ornithology Lab would be wonderful for us. And we invite you to visit Harley and see the bird garden here! Thanks to all who invested time and materials to make this project happen.