Connecting Students

March 28, 2014 by Mary Deinlein


Elementary school students in Virginia were thrilled last week to connect with their peers in Nicaragua through video conference calls. With the image of their Nicaraguan peers projected on a screen in their classroom, the students could see a volcano in the background and hear the faint sounds of waves lapping the shores of Lake Nicaragua. "When did the volcano last erupt?" they asked. "What kinds of birds do you see there? What is your favorite food? Have you seen any sharks in the lake? What do you do after school?" Huddled around a computer screen, amazed to be seeing and conversing with people thousands of miles away, the Nicaraguan students posed similar questions to their new friends in Virginia with whom they are partnered as part of the Smithsonian's Bridging the Americas/Unidos por las Aves program.

Bridging the Americas/Unidos por las Aves is a cross-cultural, conservation education program that began partnering classes in the US and Latin America in 1993 with the ultimate goal of raising the consciousness needed to conserve birds and their habitats across the Americas. Students in the partnered classes learn about the migratory birds that connect their communities as well as about each other's country and culture. During the school year, the classes exchange artwork, letters and other creative materials that convey information about the birds and about themselves. A central tenet of the program is that people in the US and in Latin America must know and understand each other in order to work together to protect the environment upon which we and the migratory birds depend.

The video conference calls took place during a trip made by Mary Deinlein, educator with the Migratory Bird Center, and Indiana Obando, second grade teacher at Bailey's Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia. Ms. Deinlein and Ms. Obando traveled to Nicaragua to meet with teachers and students who participate in the Bridging the Americas/Unidos por las Aves program and to deliver the carefully crafted packets from partner classes in the US. They also delivered needed school supplies, some of which were donated by families at Bailey's Elementary School and some of which were purchased using funds raised by students at Jamestown Elementary School in Arlington, VA through the sale of hand-made, migratory bird ornaments at Christmas-time.

Ms. Deinlein and Ms. Obando also conducted workshops for teachers at schools in Villa El Carmen near the Quelantaro Nature Reserve and in the towns of Madroñal, Balgüe, and Merida on Ometepe Island, located in Lake Nicaragua. Through the workshops, the Nicaraguan teachers were introduced to bird-themed educational activities they can easily integrate into multiple subject areas including science, social studies, language arts, visual arts, and creative movement. All activities were designed to develop fundamental learning skills as well as to enhance appreciation for the birds that make long-distance journeys between the U.S. and Latin America.

The Migratory Bird Center extends a sincere thanks to all the wonderful participating teachers in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and New Hampshire. On the other end of the migration routes, we thank the many dedicated teachers in Mexico and Nicaragua who are participating this year, as well as those who have participated in the past (in locations too numerous to list here!). We greatly appreciate our current collaborators at Amigos de Isla Contoy in Mexico and at the Quelantaro Nature Reserve in Nicaragua.

Students in Nicaragua huddled around a computer during a video call with partners in Virginia.

Students in Virginia wave to their Nicaraguan partner class during a video call.

Students at the Muñoz School in Villa El Carmen, Nicaragua learning to identify migratory birds by playing a game in which they find realistic bird figures hidden in their school yard and match each one to a labeled photograph.

Teachers at the Merida School on Ometepe Island participated in a workshop to learn bird-themed activities that develop fundamental learning skills and can be easily integrated into the curriculum.

Migratory birds are colorful symbols of a healthy environment. People in the distant places where these birds live throughout the year need to know and understand each other in order to work together to protect the environment upon which we and the birds depend.