More than 150 second–graders at Mill Street School in Orland, CA, turned a recent field trip to Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and follow–up classroom activities into works of art.

The trip was part of a program that teaches wide–eyed students about waterfowl, wetlands and migration, with the end result being the children submitting drawings to the Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design contest.

“They got to see a bald eagle out there,” said Diane Forrester, one of six teachers involved in the hands–on field trip that was funded through a local nonprofit organization, the Barceloux–Tibessart Foundation. “I think it is the most wonderful experience.”

The excursion included an activity in the refuge discovery room, a nature walk, a bus trip on the refuge—and a chance for the children to track the migration of birds from as far away as Russia.

Garrett Spaan, a visitor services assistant at the refuge, said one of the tools he and colleague Natalie Garver use is a migration game in which the students “travel” from place to place around the world just as the birds do. Spaan and Garver work for California Waterfowl and provide environmental education for children at the refuge.

“When they came to the refuge, we did a program called Chompers and Stompers. It talks about beaks and feet, and we have our discovery room activities, and they all have worksheets, and they go around and discover the answers,” said Spaan, noting that room is home to a number of stuffed birds.

“And we have a program called Migration Madness, which is a game all about snow geese,” Spaan said. “And [the students] run from place to place where they go from Wrangel Island [off the coast of Russia] to the Klamath Basin, and follow the migration of the snow geese.”

Students were given binoculars for use during the refuge tour.

This year’s trip was a little different, however, because the refuge also came to the school. Spaan and Garver spent an hour in each classroom over two days, refreshing the students on some of the lessons they learned, and showing them how to draw a duck.

“The kids are very, very excited. We go in there and show them a lot of stuffed ducks and stuffed geese, and we get a lot of feedback from the kids,” Spaan said.

“Personally, I really enjoy it. I love going into the classroom and educating these kids,” he said. “And I’ve been very surprised. There are a lot of kids who go through the program ... and they know a lot about habitat and waterfowl.”

The students use a whiteboard to begin their drawing lessons, and then are given paper for the final drawing. Students who wish to can then submit the drawings for the contest.

In turn, for each drawing submitted, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gives the program $1 for educational activities through the California Junior Duck Stamp program.

“The main goal is to promote the Junior Duck Stamp program, and to educate these kids on waterfowl, wetlands and migration,” Spaan said. “And we educate them on conservation.”

Todd Hansen is managing editor of Tri–County Newspapers in northern California. This article originally appeared in the Orland Press–Register on March 4, 2011.