Birds Connect Classrooms in the U.S. and Nicaragua
March 12, 2012 by Mary Deinlein
Twice a year, millions of birds belonging to about 150 species travel between seasonal homes in Nicaragua and the United States. From September to March, these birds are at home amidst the towering volcanoes and varied tropical habitats of Nicaragua. Free from the demands of raising young at this time of the year, they mingle with the hundreds of other bird species that stay in the country year-round. By the end of March, they begin their aerial trek to North America where they’ll busy themselves with breeding and raising another generation of feathered travelers, before returning to the tropics.
These birds with two homes are a colorful and tangible connection between communities in Nicaragua and the United States. For the past 10 years, the Migratory Bird Center’s “Bridging the Americas/Unidos por las Aves” program has been highlighting this connection by partnering elementary and middle school classes on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua with classes in the US. The students in the partnered classes learn and communicate about the migratory birds they share and the need to jointly protect the distant habitats the birds depend on throughout the year. In addition to inspiring appreciation and stewardship of birds, the program also promotes cross-cultural understanding between the partnered classes through exchanges of drawings, letters, and other creative materials—as well as the occasional exchange of teachers too!
In 2005, two teachers from Ometepe traveled to Washington, DC to meet their program partners, and in 2007 a US-based teacher and his family visited his counterparts in Nicaragua. In February of this year, Mary Deinlein, an educator from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and two participating teachers from Fairfax County in Virginia, Christine Payack of Fairhill Elementary and Consuelo Bachelet of Lake Anne Elementary traveled to Ometepe Island. They visited twenty classrooms at five different schools to deliver educational materials and school supplies, as well as artwork, letters and other materials from the partner classes in the US. They also engaged students in bird-focused activities, and organized a trip with the local teachers to a bird banding station run by Fauna and Flora International where participants got to see migratory and resident birds up-close. Last but not least, the students of Ms. Payack and Ms. Bachelet back home were thrilled to communicate with their teachers and their Nicaraguan partners through live video conference calls.
Also along on this recent trip to Nicaragua was a film crew from New Hampshire Public Television that is making a documentary about the Bridging the Americas program due to air in the Fall of 2012.
The Migratory Bird Center extends a heartfelt thanks to our program collaborators on Ometepe Island: Alvaro Molina and his wonderful family and staff at Hacienda Merida, Salvadora Morales and her great team from Fauna and Flora International, and Norlan Zambrana of Fundación Entre Volcanes We also thank NH Public TV for their interest in capturing the spirit of this program on film.
There are currently about 100 classes participating in the Bridging the Americas program, with partner classes located in the US, Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Colombia. Learn more about this exciting cross-cultural conservation education program.