Back to School is for the Birds

Fall is an exciting time at HawkWatch International (HWI), as virtually everyone on the team gets involved in migration in some way or another. For the education team, autumn leaves also herald the return of our formal school programs. While we love sharing our passion for raptors with learners of all ages, for the four-member education team, our main focus during the school year is on high school students.

In 2013, HWI joined the informal Science Education Enhancement (iSEE) partnership. iSEE is a unique group of non-profit, informal science education providers that work to bring engaging outreach programs to every school in the state of Utah. Partners include museums, zoological institutions, and botanical gardens. Between all the partners, students in every grade K-12 at Utah public and charter schools get a visit from an iSEE program at least once every three years. For HWI, this means visiting between 60-70 high schools a year, some of which are nearly 500 miles away! Last year alone, we provided over 10,000 student and teacher experiences at 71 schools in 23 school districts.

All iSEE partners provide content that is aligned to Utah Science Education with Engineering (SEEd) standards as well as Next Generation Science Standards. Our content is designed to enhance learning that students are already doing in the classroom. At HWI, we specifically target life science students in classes like Biology, Zoology, and Environmental Science. We have the unique benefit of being an organization full of scientists engaged in active, ongoing research. This allows us to share real-world data with students and introduce them to scientific careers that exist outside of a lab. Of course, the highlight of our visits is meeting a live Raptor Ambassador up close.

Additionally, HWI offers field trips to migration sites for high school students. These trips go to the Goshute Mountains and Commissary Ridge HawkWatch and involve camping overnight, meeting crew members, learning how to ID migrating raptors, and digging into statistical analysis of migration count data. HWI has a gear library for students that lack camping equipment so that all students can participate. 

Our iSEE programs are funded in two ways. The Utah State Board of Education (USBE) provides a grant that covers approximately 50% of the cost of iSEE. HWI is then expected to match the USBE grant dollar for dollar by securing additional funding. We rely on grants and private donations to make this program happen. Unquestionably, iSEE is the farthest-reaching education program we do in both numerical and geographic terms. Nearly 40% of learners last fiscal year were students or teachers that participated in an iSEE program. For those looking to ensure their dollars are used to maximum effect, iSEE is a great program to sponsor.      

While meeting our obligations for iSEE is one of the most challenging things we do as an education team, it’s clear that the program inspires students to see themselves in STEM careers. There is something magical about watching a jaded teen voluntarily pull out their earbuds and start asking questions and making observations about a bird.

This blog was written by Melissa Halvorsen, HWI’s Education and Outreach Director. You can learn more about Melissa here. Photo by Alexandra Ortiz.

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