Send 30 Children to Afterschool Nature Program

 
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Thank you from Daniel, on of our students
Thank you from Daniel, on of our students

Throughout this session of Earth Keepers we have forged relationships with sweet, curious and sometimes fidgety children of our area schools. Our experiences with these students are filled with laughter, exploration and shared passion for the outdoors.  We thank you on behalf of every child who has ventured outside this spring because of your donations. With the change of seasons we know it is time to give them up to summer break, and hope to see them at one of the many camps we offer.

One of the last sessions, we examined the life of deer. We asked children what deer do every day and what signs these animals would leave on the landscape. When asked this question, hands shot in the air with thoughtful answers “footprints!” “Feathers!” “Poop!!”  Giggles waved across the audience of elementary school aged children. After the roar of laughter died down we confirmed all of the answers. And explained that poop, or scat, is a great animal sign and it can tell us a lot about what the animal is, what it eats, and how long ago it was there, among other useful information.  After this short discussion about our intention for the afternoon we took to the woods.

It was wonderful to see the different interpretations each child had of the intention. Some pointed out every hole in the ground, fascinated by what could be inside. Others inched along the dirt path determined to see a track. Alex was among the most interested, but mainly on the flowers he was finding on the ground. I am so grateful to be part of a program that encourages children to be led by their own curiosity. We talked for a few minutes about where the flower came from and how to identify it. Thank you all for helping us encourage this type of learning.

This session was a huge hit! We received thank you cards from some students that we want to share with you. Although you cannot see all of the eager faces each time Earth Keepers begins, we hope that these cards expressing unprompted gratitude will warm your heart, as they did ours. Thank you again for your support of our mission! We will check back in when the new school year begins.

 

Alex and one of his flower wonders
Alex and one of his flower wonders
Jackson sparked by the wonder of trees
Jackson sparked by the wonder of trees
A thank you from Gigi, another student
A thank you from Gigi, another student

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Mentor, Adam, sharing barred owl with students
Mentor, Adam, sharing barred owl with students

As winter winds pick up, and days become increasingly shorter, we say good-bye to another semester at Githen’s Middle School and reflect upon the impact we have had on the students, the ways they have taught us, and the ripple effect our program will have on the greater community. We also must pause and take a moment to sincerely and warmly thank you, the donors, for giving us the funds needed to run our program for those that need it most. With all your support, especially this past month, we reached our goal!

Our students at Githen’s Middle are growing up in a time where nature exploration and self-exploration are limited. Many young adults we encounter in our program do not feel comfortable or safe exploring nature in their neighborhoods. Our program provides them with the opportunity to grow and explore in a safe environment surrounded by experienced and kind mentoring. We are so grateful to you for allowing us to witness the incredible growth these young adults exhibit after only a few short weeks in nature. Thank you for giving these young men and women the opportunity to wander in the woods and discover parts of themselves they otherwise may never get to know. 

In our closing surveys, we asked the students, What have you learned during Earth Keepers?

-    “That there are lots of things I still don’t know about nature or myself. Earth Keepers has introduced me to the wonders of nature and what it has in store for me.” – Jackson, age 12

-    “Walking in the woods helps me connect with nature and myself.” – Johnathan, age 11

“I learned how to fell a tree and that I AM nature. – Christian, age 12 

The responses we received were remarkable and so touching. These students were genuine in their love of nature and we were thrilled to have engaged, hungry, and passionate mentees to spend time with. It was a true joy to share our passions and afternoons with these incredible young adults.

Thank you for all you have done to help support these amazing people. Since we have reached our financial goal for this project, we have decided to roll it into the other similar afterschool project that will support elementary and middle schools in a few different school systems.  You can stay connected   
through our website,Piedmont Wildlife Center, or sign up for our newsletters from our site, our follow us on facebook.  Of course you may still support us through our other projects on Global Giving: Help 100 students become Earh Keepers.

Best wishes for the Holiday Season!

Adair learning fire skills
Adair learning fire skills
Christian with the tree he felled
Christian with the tree he felled

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Adair ready to jump off into uncharted territory
Adair ready to jump off into uncharted territory

We have a great group of students at Githens Middle School this semester. Many of them  have a good foundational knowledge of the animals and plants in their area allowing us to teach more complicated subjects like ecology.  These students have a love and passion for nature. It's very evident by their comfort in the woods and excitement when we leave the trails for uncharted territory and have hands on experiences

Each time we meet, we head straight to the woods surrounding the school to explore and investigate whatever we happen upon and why those things are in the area. This is a wonderful opportunity for the students to employ their observation, investigation, inquiry  and identification skills. During one of our walks, I was amazed to hear Christiana say, " look, I found a box turtle!"  Me and the rest of the group had walked right past it.  We checked it out up close and personal before putting it back, talking about what it is doing this time of year to prepare for tupor (sleeping under ground) for the winter.  

During another outing, we came across a black rat snake which was a real learning experience for several of the students since they had never seen one in the wild before.    Christiana and Adair were both apprehensive about touching it, but both overcame their fears and did!  We went off trail in the swampy area and found it swarming with Chorus, Leopard, and Treefrogs.  Another big surprise was a tree that had some intriguing markings on it. We let the students guess and they eventually decided that they were chew marks made by a beaver.  Adair asked in amazement, "We have beaver living this close to the school in these woods?".  We have found signs of deer and turkey as well as some cool plants like ginger, native orchids, and learned about several of the area’s trees.

We are eager to go out again exploring.  Thanks to your support we can continue to connect students to nature in these unique ways.

Don't forget Giving Tuesday on Tuesday, December 2!  Every donation you make to one of our children's programs on GlobalGiving will be matched 100% by Microsoft beginning at 9:00 AM. Matching funds will go quickly so donate between 9:00 and 9:30 AM for the best chance of being matched.

Christiana with the box turtle she found
Christiana with the box turtle she found
Beaver teeth marks identified by Githens students
Beaver teeth marks identified by Githens students
Beaver teeth marks identified by Githens students
Beaver teeth marks identified by Githens students
Chance meeting his 1 match fire challenge!
Chance meeting his 1 match fire challenge!

While planning our upcoming year for our Earth Connectors program, our education team at Piedmont Wildlife Center takes time to reflect on our past year. When we asked each other what student was most positively affected by our program, all of us immediately thought of Chance, a scholarship recipient thanks to your support. With gentle mentoring, encouragement and tweaks we made to our program, Chance transformed from a young man who did not trust himself or many others and was difficult to reach, to someone who became a leader to his peers and a steady role model to new students joining our program. It really solidified the fact that time in nature and patient mentoring benefits the whole person; positively affecting their physical, mental and emotional well-being.

When we began our program in the Fall of 2013 and met our students, we were not surprised to find that many of our Earth Connectors students said they spent little time outdoors. Many of our students said their neighborhoods were unsafe and that their parents or guardians did not approve of them playing outside unsupervised. Our program was really the only chance many of our students were allowed to benefit from time in nature. We began slowly, taking gentle walks around the school’s property and playing nature based games to build trust in each other and their surroundings. We quickly discovered that if Chance was not engaged, or having fun during our planned activity, he could become disruptive and take the focus off of our activity. If you’ve spent any time around children or young adults, you know that there are special kids who have magnetic personalities. Chance was one of these students and we knew that if we could get him excited about what we were doing, we’d hit a home run with the rest of the group.

My co-worker and I took some time to get to know Chance before we began asking him his interests and started to bring him books from our personal collections. We learned that Chance used to camp but had not been able to go in quite some time. He showed a great interest in primitive skills such as; shelter building, primitive fire making and way-finding. We decided that our 4 paths program, which is a challenge and skills based program with a step-by-step process of learning the skills from four paths: fire-making, hunting, plants, and animal tracking would best fit the needs of our students. This program allows young people to progress through challenges of increasing difficulty and provides opportunities for them to mentor each other.

When Chance was challenged, like he was in the 4 paths program, he was focused and determined. He was especially gifted with fire making and mentored other students in the paths he was proficient in. During one session, Chance was mentoring a classmate on fire making and said, "Fire making is really hard.  You must be prepared, and have a positive mindset.  You have to believe you will get a fire."

By the end of our year with Chance, he was a gentle leader, a focused student, comfortable with himself and more trusting of others and his surroundings. I am so grateful that Chance was able to participate in this program because of your donations, and that he stayed with us for the entire year and made the lives of his peers and mine, a better one for knowing him.  How many people do you think he will positively influence?   With your donations, how many more students can we have this kind of impact on?

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Grace checking the placement of the Blue bird box
Grace checking the placement of the Blue bird box

Our last activity this school year at Githens was to do a community service project that benefitted students and the school grounds.  The students elected to hang Bluebird boxes on the edge of the natural area at the school.  This project provides habitat for the bluebirds the students had seen flying around nearby, and provides all students at the school an opportunity to observe the birds more closely, learn their habitats, pique interest and build a connection with nature.

Many of our nature encounters at Githens involved lots of bird sightings prompting discussions.  As mentioned in the last report, the students really got intrigued by bird movements.  They found several signs of different species including a few nests that the students continually checked to see the progress of not only the nest building, but eventually to see if eggs were laid, and then if they had hatched.  With the large Citizen Science projects run by Cornell University Lab of Ornithology like, the Great Backyard Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and Project NestWatch, the students had a chance to record their observations.  Naturally, the Bluebird box installation as a community service project idea was a hit.

The students broke into groups to decide where they wanted to hang their boxes.  They considered the direction the entry faced, ease of access for the birds (meaning the forest edge), and in enough line of site for other students to be able to observe some bird activity and draw interest.  Grace said,"I think this will be a good location for a box because I watched some bluebirds flitting around this area for a while.  They will be close to food and have some protection from the trees." Adrian said, "We picked this location due to the easy access with an open area close by."  The students plan on stopping by during the summer to see if there is any activity in the boxes.

Although we have completed the session at Githens for the year, we still are a few hundred dollars short of our goal for funding it and would like to continue this next year.  Please consider donations in honor of Fathers' Day this month so we can reach our goal!  We are extremely grateful for the support from all our donors.  Because we have been successful on Gloval Giving, we were honored with being added to Microsoft Youth Sparks.  This means we are elibigle for the Microsoft YouthSpark's Bonus Day on June 25!  Our Githen's Middle School Project only needs $548 to complete funding, however, any adiitonal money raised on June 25th will go towards next year's program.  If you can help us spread the word to friends and family, that would be fantastic!  Any amount from $10 to $1000 given from noon to midnight on June 25 will be 100% matched by Microsoft while funds are available, so donate just after NOON to be sure your investment is doubled!.  The project that raises the most funds on Bonus Day will receive an additional $2,500 and the one with the most unique donors on Microsoft YouthSpark's Bonus Day will receive an additional $2,500.  Only online donations (credit card or PayPal) are eligible for matching funds.

Two new projects are also eligible for matching funds on June 25th.  Check out our Elementary School Afterschool Project and our Summer Camp Scholarship Fund

Thanks again, for believing in our project and for giving us great support!

Joe placing the Bluebird box on the selected tree
Joe placing the Bluebird box on the selected tree
Adam and Adrian attaching the box
Adam and Adrian attaching the box
Adrian holding the box in place while Adam drills
Adrian holding the box in place while Adam drills
Success with the installation.  Welcome bluebirds!
Success with the installation. Welcome bluebirds!

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Funded

Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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Project Leader

Karen McCall

After School Coordinator
Durham, North Carolina United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Send 30 Children to Afterschool Nature Program