Closing the Nature Gap with Promise South Salt Lake

When Maisy Hayes contacted me early this year about doing some after-school programs, I don’t think either of us understood that we were about to create a whole new approach for HawkWatch International’s (HWI) outreach programs. Maisy is the program coordinator at Historic Scott School, one of 14 community centers in South Salt Lake dedicated to providing services to students and families outside of regular school hours. After just a few minutes of chatting, I knew Maisy and I were kindred spirits with a shared passion for bringing education opportunities into deserving communities.

Before I ever spoke with Maisy, I had been wondering how HWI could make our education programs more impactful. There is no doubt that an intimate, close-up encounter with one of our Raptor Ambassadors can be life-changing. I see it all the time in my work as Education and Outreach Director, but it’s hard to gauge the quality and retention rate of learning that occurs within a single visit. I was toying with the idea of finding a way to provide multiple visits to the same learners but didn’t have a concrete vision for how it would work. Then Maisy reached out. 

Together, Maisy and I dreamed of a new kind of education program for HWI. We wondered how students would respond to repeated visits with different birds and educators coming each time. With each visit, the students would be able to build on previous learning, leading to a more comprehensive understanding of raptors and how they fit into their ecosystems. Between visits, Maisy and her team would engage the students with additional learning activities that allow them to practice applying what they were learning. We decided to break the students up into two age groups for each visit so HWI educators could better tailor their presentations to the science concepts the kids were learning in school.

As Maisy and I riffed off of each other, we can up with the idea of a capstone experience for the series of visits that would involve inviting friends and family of the students to an open house where the kids could then become “experts” and share what they learned about each bird with their loved ones. We decided the week of Earth Day was a great time to hold our community open house and let the students shine.

Every educator that participated in the visits to the Promise South Salt Lake programs was charmed by the kids’ enthusiasm and engagement with the birds. We got to know the students by name, and they got to know the birds. It was a delight to see more and more artwork depicting HWI’s raptor ambassadors adorning the walls of the classroom with each visit. Students would ask about their favorite birds by name and excitedly share facts with each other. Educators were able to reference information covered in previous presentations and build an ever more complete picture of how raptors are similar and different from each other and how they fit into their ecosystems. Older students learned about threats to raptors and what they could do to help birds in their local neighborhoods. 

Every educator that participated in the visits to the Promise South Salt Lake programs was charmed by the kids’ enthusiasm and engagement with the birds. We got to know the students by name, and they got to know the birds. It was a delight to see more and more artwork depicting HWI’s raptor ambassadors adorning the walls of the classroom with each visit. Students would ask about their favorite birds by name and excitedly share facts with each other. Educators were able to reference information covered in previous presentations and build an ever more complete picture of how raptors are similar and different from each other and how they fit into their ecosystems. Older students learned about threats to raptors and what they could do to help birds in their local neighborhoods. 

Without question, the highlight of the program series was our Earth Day open house. Students were joined by parents, caregivers, siblings, friends, and neighbors. They planted flowers, painted rocks to decorate the school garden, enjoyed homemade treats, and of course, shared the birds! Many students were able to introduce each bird, identify its species, and share several facts about it. Some of them even did it in multiple languages as they translated for family members. The entire event was a great success, and many students expressed an interest in volunteering with raptors when they got older. 

Thanks to Maisy, the kids she serves, and Promise South Salt Lake, HWI was able to pilot a new type of community outreach. We were so happy with our experience that we have decided to formally make “Nature Gap Programs” part of our annual plan for the next fiscal year. The HWI Education Team will partner with at least four community organizations that serve people who may have economic or physical barriers to accessing encounters in nature to bring a series of visits from raptor ambassadors. Each series will be tailored to the specific needs of the community the organization serves and will hopefully provide learners with a unique chance to dig deep into raptor science.

Thanks to funding from the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks grant; the Lawrence T. and Janet T. Dee Foundation; George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation; and individual donors to HWI, we can provide these programs at no cost to the organizations we are partnering with, all of which are nonprofits or associated with small local governments. While we offer these programs for free, they certainly do come with costs. If you would like to help support us in our efforts to Close the Nature Gap, please consider making a donation to HWI so we can continue to ensure everyone has a chance to experience raptors 


This blog was written by Melissa Halvorsen, HWI’s Education and Outreach Director. You can learn more about Melissa here.
Photos by Maisy Hayes

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