Don's Jersey Birding: Our Local Heroes of the Environment, Part 5
Janet Shuler's class learning about birds with Bergen County Audubon Society.
All photos courtesy of Don Torino.
Editor's note: Congratulations to Don! This is his 52nd article for Wild New Jersey! On behalf of Wild New Jersey, we would like to thank him for his hard work and dedication to our blog over the past year. We're looking forward to another year of his stories!
by Don Torino
At a time when birders were thought of as strange - or eccentric at best - my fourth grade teacher Miss Henderson imparted to me a love of birds.
Despite teasing from the students, who would laugh and call her the “Bird Lady” behind her back, Miss Henderson was undaunted. She took her students on bird walks and pointed out robins and orioles that were making their home on Jackson Avenue School in Hackensack. I never forgot how much I enjoyed our walks; something just clicked inside of me when she told us amazing things like how far the birds traveled to get to our schoolyard and where they would be going when they left us. Even today, I still carry that sense of wonder that she inspired in us.
Now, as Education Chairperson for the Bergen County Audubon Society, I have had many wonderful opportunities to spend time in our area’s public schools and I have been privileged to meet and work with many fine teachers. These wonderful teachers tirelessly labor to help their students achieve that same love of nature that Miss Henderson gave her students. They’re committed to bringing the natural environment into the classroom in order to give students an opportunity to connect to the natural world, which may be the only chance that some of these young people have to learn about the wonders of nature.
Students at Saddle Brook School at work in their Courtyard Habitat.
Great educators such as Janet Shuler, the Vice Principal at Fanny Meyer-Hillers School in Hackensack, have continued to help spread an enthusiasm for birds.
“Our elementary students are open books, ready to be written upon…they want to know everything, and are very curious about the world around them,” Shuler said.
I asked Ms. Shuler how teaching students about the environment benefits them and she responded, “It helps them be knowledgeable and responsible citizens who care for the Earth and for others.”
Debra Dunne, a teacher at Tisdale Elementary School in Ramsey, is committed to making sure that her students have a hands-on opportunity to learn about the environment. One way that Ms. Dunne accomplishes this is through the use of a Certified Wildlife Habitat, which was created as a learning area for students in the school courtyard.
Debra Dunne's 3rd grade class at Tisdale School in Ramsey working in their courtyard habitat.
“The students are always adding plants to attract birds and butterflies,” Dunne said. “With the study of birds and appreciating them for their beauty, I believe our kids become more globally aware of current events and situations happening around our earth.”
Two other amazing teachers who I have worked with for years are Kim Gerken and Gayle Dunlap of Saddle Brook Middle/High School in Saddle Brook. These two women have led the way in making sure that youths today know about the environment through initiatives, such as the Wildlife Habitat project in the school’s courtyard. Their project has been such a success that it has been a model for other schools wishing to provide their students with a love of nature. Along with Gerken and Dunlap, the Bergen County Audubon Society has conducted the “Great Backyard Bird Count” with the Saddle Brook students and has seen how eager the students are to learn about the wildlife that lives around them.
Gayle Dunlap,a teacher at Saddle Brook School, filling the school's bird feeders.
Many other great teachers such as Shelley Manzi from Ridge Ranch School in Paramus, and Ron Durso from Fairlawn Public Schools, have also worked hard to ensure that their students have the opportunity to learn about the natural world around them. All these local heroes of the environment have not only helped their students learn about nature, but have also sacrificed much of their personal time and money to do so. These kinds of generous teachers exist in nearly every town and district in New Jersey; they are at the forefront in the struggle to bring all our youths- no matter what town or socioeconomic level- a proper education on the environment.
At a time in our state when our public school teachers have often been unfairly portrayed as the bad guy and made to feel unappreciated, we need to let them know how important they are to our children. If we are looking for our future conservationists, ornithologists and ecologists we need look no further than the young students in our local communities. These future leaders are being given a great start with the help of our public school teachers, our local heroes of the environment.
“What do parents owe their young that is more important than a warm and trusting connection to the Earth…?” – Theodore Roszak, The Voice of the Earth
Don Torino is the Education Chairperson for Bergen County Audubon Society.
Don's Previous Birding Exclusives: