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Rural Illinois School Children Receive Their First Environmental Education Program
Southwest Region, June 3, 2003
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When refuge staff from the Middle Mississippi River and Crab Orchard NWRs first approached the Christ Lutheran School in Jacob, Ill., they were surprised and a little concerned when they were met at the school's front door by Principal Stephen Rockey.

It seemed a bit unusual for a principal to meet visitors before they actually entered the building, but we were about to learn that there are many unusual, and special things about this particular school. You see, this rural southern Illinois schoolhouse is comprised of just three rooms and a gymnasium, and the total student body from kindergarten through eigth grade includes just 59 students. When principal Rockey was asked if he would be interested in receiving an environmental education program someday, his response was ?what are you doing right now? I have a science class that begins in two minutes and I?m the teacher.?

Feeling a bit unprepared for that offer, refuge manager John Magera (MMRNWR) and park ranger John Giles (CONWR) decided to host a field trip to the nearby Wilkinson Island division of the Middle Mississippi River NWR, and a classroom education program during the final week of school. When the refuge staff arrived at the school to begin the field trip, they were again surprised to find every single student and many of their parents lined up outside the school, ready to go. More than 15 parents shuttled all 59 students (plus some younger siblings) the two miles to the site of a bald eagle nest on the refuge. There, the students had a chance to learn about the newly established refuge as an immature bald eagle flew by within a few hundred feet. For many of the students and parents, it was the first eagle they had ever seen, even though it had hatched less than three miles from their school.

After a chilly morning on the levee, the group headed back to the school's gymnasium to enjoy an excellent lesson on raptors by park ranger John Giles. John even brought with him a live screech owl that drew many ooh's and aah's from the group. After the program ended, the refuge staff agreed to help principal Rockey develop an environmental education field studies program that would bring students to the refuge to learn about the fish and wildlife of the Middle Mississippi River. What started as an offer for a refuge field trip may soon develop into a lasting partnership between a small, local school and their new ?neighborhood? refuge.

Contact Info: Martin Valdez, 505-248-6599, martin_valdez@fws.gov



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