Closing the Ability Gap

05 August 2021

No two students learn the same, which means there is no one size fits all way of teaching. “It can be challenging for students to conform to rigid school standards, and as a result, some end up falling behind,” said HWI Educator Chris Butler. Students on the autism spectrum and students with special needs often fall into this category. 

Within the Autism spectrum, 33% of children have an intellectual disability, 24% are in the borderline range, and 42% have IQ scores in the average to above-average range (CDC). Students with autism exhibit an extremely diverse range of educational needs, and often formal education is not structured to accommodate them. Informal education offers an opportunity to fill in these gaps. 

Earlier this summer, HawkWatch International launched a campaign to grow informal science programs in hopes of closing one of these gaps—the nature gap. “This past year has shown us that not every student has the opportunity or ability to spend time in the fresh air and experience the natural world first hand,” shared Melissa Halvorsen, HWI’s Education and Outreach Director. In order to make science education more accessible, we are designing programming that is better suited for those with special and diverse needs. It is HWI’s goal to create hands-on science and nature-based experiences while being conscious of individuals’ needs. 

Chris will be leading the creation of these programs. Before working for HWI, Chris worked in both formal and informal education settings. While in the school system, Chris worked with a group of students on the Autism spectrum. From this experience, along with his time working at the Hogle Zoo, Chris was trained on how to create lesson plans that were better suited to adapt to students’ needs. Chris found success in sending out a schedule in advance, so students know what to expect and can voice any alterations they need. Additionally, frequent check-ins during the program help to ensure that the educator is on track and delivering a lesson that is serving the students’ requisites. “No matter how well I think I have planned or explained something, it still might not be what everyone needs,” says Chris.

For HWI’s new accessible program, Chris aims to adapt our curriculum that focuses on defining raptors and exploring their “three sharps.” These programs will still include live Raptor Ambassadors, but will also include tactile components. HWI programs typically utilize PowerPoint presentations, but for these programs, Chris plans to lean away from that structure. He hopes to emphasize sensory integration and give students lots of chances to feel and look at science up close. Chris will do this by including didactics and biofacts such as skull replicas, foot replicas, feathers, pictures, and more. “It is one thing to hear how large and sharp a Golden Eagle’s talon is, it is another thing to hold one in your hands,” says Chris. The pictures will also include captions to give the students the option to read what is in the image for increased comprehension.

Chris is excited to complete this project and begin offering programming for students of all abilities. “Special and diverse needs programs have been my favorite to do and create in the past, and I’m looking forward to starting these programs for HawkWatch International,” he shared.

Did you know that with a donation of $300 dollars you can fund the materials needed for our Autism Spectrum program? Click the link to help us take our accessible raptor programs into schools and our community:

Want to book one of our educational programs? Submit your request for a program here: Both virtual and in-person programs are available!

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