Puddles the Blue Goose leads Barrett Elementary School students in a rendition of "Rock the Refuge,"
a song written for the schools year-long project studying national wildlife refuges. (Elizabeth Rente)
Second-grader Audrey Vizard knows
all about national wildlife refuges.
"Theyre places where animals
can live and be protected," she says. "I
think they are very happy there, and that
makes me happy."
Protecting plants and animals is
important, agrees Toni Birnett, a fourthgrader.
"We need them for us to survive."
Fifth-grader Grace Goldman loves
animals, too. But, for her, the best part
about refuges is the chance to be in
nature. "I like digging in the dirt and
holding worms," she says.
Audrey, Toni and Grace, all students at
Barrett Elementary School in Arlington,
VA, will be exploring refuges in-depth
this school year as part of a schoolwide
initiative to expose youngsters
to the outdoors and a commitment by
the Refuge System to engage the next
generation of conservationists.
The initiative is the brainchild of teacher
Laurie Sullivan, who approached the
Refuge System for curriculum advice
last winter and ultimately procured a
$10,000 funding grant through the Toyota
"Weve all been hearing for the past
several years about the last child in
the woods and kids spending less time
outdoors in nature and more time indoors
playing video games and watching TV,"
says Sullivan, who oversees Barretts
Discovery Lab, where the students
delve deeply into topics such as NASA,
engineering and now nature.
Plans for this school year include visits
to three refugesPatuxent Research
Refuge in Maryland, and Occoquan Bay
and Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck
Refuges in Virginia. Twenty students
with strong academic and leadership
skills will visit Mason Neck in the fall, in
part to help plan activities for the rest of
the school, Sullivan says, suggesting that
a digital scavenger hunt is a possibility.
Then in spring, the entire third-, fourthand
fifth-grade classesabout 250
childrenwill visit a refuge. Children in
kindergarten through second grade will
explore natural areas closer to the school
with the likelihood of visiting refuges as
they get older and the project evolves.
The overarching theme will be to see
how birds and trees change with the
seasons, Sullivan says. Because most of
the students will be visiting the refuges
only once, the project will include visits
to parks and instruction in the schools
outdoor garden and Discovery Lab, too.
Families also will be encouraged to go on
weekend nature outings.
Although details of the refuge visits still
are being worked out, activities that
traditionally are a big hit with kids likely
will be included.
At Mason Neck and Occoquan Bay
Refuges, part of Potomac River National
Wildlife Refuge Complex, park rangerintern
Patricia Wood says that using
"scat and tracks" is one way to draw in
elementary-age students. "Its really
about going out and seeing what the
animal has left behind."
At Patuxent Refuge, an electric tram
takes visitors through forest, wetland and
meadow habitats, and at Occoquan Bay
Refuge a songbird banding station allows
kids to hold the birds while volunteers
apply bands. "For a kid to hold a bird
like that and feel its heartbeatthats
a life-changing experience and the kind
of impression were trying to make,"
says Marty McClevey, also a ranger at
Potomac River Refuge Complex.
The Toyota TAPESTRY grant will
cover most project expenses, including
digital cameras for the kids, bus trips to
the refuges, laptops and child-size
As much as the school wants to limit
screen time, the goal is not to
discourage kids interest in technology
entirely. In fact, Sullivan says, the
students final projects could include a
music video, a documentary film, an oral
report with video imagesor even a
Jennifer Anderson is a frequent
contributor to Refuge Update.
To learn more about the Barrett
Elementary School project, visit http://tinyurlcom/BarrettNature or http://tinyurlcom/BarrettNatureFacebook.
To see a pep rally at which the students
perform "Rock the Refuge," a song
written for the project, go to www.YouTubecom/BarrettNature. For
information on Toyota TAPESTRY
grants, visit http://www.nsta.org/pd/tapestry.