At HawkWatch International (HWI), we usually start our education program with a question: how would you describe our ecosystem? Without skipping a beat, the first answers are often people, houses, concrete, and cars. To many students, human development is ubiquitous with the great outdoors. Green grass, shimmering lakes, and towering forests are often out of reach for city dwellers. How can the next generation connect with nature and care about conservation when they have had so little exposure to it?
HWI educator Iza Schwartz empathizes with this experience. “I was an inner-city kid from Chicago that grew up around concrete,” Iza shared. Growing up they didn’t have much “outdoorsy” experience. It wasn’t until Iza went to college that they discovered a love for natural history and ecology. Iza was in search of field experience when they learned about HawkWatch International from a former Yaki Point (Grand Canyon) migration crew member. They soon after applied to join the migration crew at Bonney Butte in Oregon in the fall of 2017. From there, Iza’s love for raptors grew. Iza continued to work for HWI looking for Golden Eagle nests and then completed another migration season at the Manzano Mountains before they applied for the educator role in 2019.
Through their work as an educator, Iza is able to “bring a rare opportunity to students like (them) who may not have that chance otherwise.” Iza’s mission is to advocate for the birds and our ecosystem, but also to encourage each student’s inner scientist. “The sense of wonder and awe is so present when there is a bird in the classroom,” they shared. Sparking this curiosity and fascination is what brings Iza the most joy and believes has the most profound impact. “Close proximity to nature is a catalyst for conservation,” they shared. Each student should feel that there is space for them in STEM fields and that they can help too.
One of Iza’s goals in their role at HWI is to take more students outside. Whether that be taking them to a local park or up to one of our migration sites, Iza says that “their greatest joy is when (they) can be outside and teaching.” Iza hopes that they can use their platform to “instill (in their students) a practice of being observant of place.” Through this appreciation of their environment, Iza hopes to both improve ecosystem health and the health of our communities.
This back-to-school season, we are closing the nature gap. We aim to raise $22,040 to expand our education programming. Iza is leading this expansion by translating our programs into Spanish. Did you know that in Utah, about 77% of English Language Learners are Spanish speakers? In translating our lesson plans we hope to break down language barriers and help more kids fall in love with science.
With your contribution, we can bring more students outside, and bring more birds inside classrooms: https://hawkwatch.org/naturegap