On Nov. 19, one day before the first snow storm of the season, 33 students put on gloves and picked up shovels to begin work on a duck habitat behind Flint Southwestern High School.
The 7th through 12th graders, which included a group with special needs students, cleaned up trash and dug out grass to prepare the site for the upcoming spring. The 150’ x 20’ site, began as little more than a circle of overgrown grass but as Guy, an 11th grader, explained, the students dug holes so that snow would accumulate over the winter and be retained as water for the ducks next season. He said they wanted the ducks to have a permanent home.
Families of ducks have been nesting in the high school’s interior courtyard. Previously, the students created a habitat in the courtyard for the ducks but the space is too small to nest in so it led to problems. Linda Heck and Kim Hatfield are the two teachers which have been leading these place based education projects with their students. Ducks can have up to 12 chicks at a time and over the last few years, Kim and her mother have had to transport the ducks out of the courtyard to a nearby river, one family at a time.
Brandon, a tenth grader, said he enjoyed digging up the grass better than being in the classroom. He said he has seen a natural duck habitat before but was excited to see how a man-made one worked.
Brian Schorr, Genesee Conservation District, designed the habitat. He said the spot that was chosen was a natural wetland that had been filled with sediment. By digging it out, the site will be allowed to retain more water.
In the spring, students will plant vegetation around the new habitat and the teachers are trying to get General Motors to donate battery boxes which can be reused as duck and bat houses on the site.
Elvin, 8th grade, said he enjoys the project because it lets him get some air. He likes being taught outside more than being taught inside the classroom.
Linda echoed that sentiment, saying her students enjoy doing anything that doesn’t involve a worksheet and pencil. The teachers have used their partnership with the conservation district as a teaching tool. Her students have lost contact with the natural world and didn’t even know where water comes from. As part of the partnership, Jeffrey Johnson from the conservation district, has been teaching the students about watersheds and how important they are.
Angela Warren, conservation district, said part of the group’s work is to help students and residents conserve resources but it is also about letting the kids consider going into the natural resources field. She said natural resources is such a broad topic that students need experiences like the duck habitat to act as entry points.
“Career exploration is important, involving people in these projects encourages them to be good stewards of the land,” Warren said.
Tyrek, 10th grade, said since working on these Place Based Education projects, he has considered a career in natural resources. He said this was because he likes being outside more than being in a classroom environment.