The Dorn Community Charter School is a K-5 elementary school located near downtown Albuquerque, only one mile as the crow flies from the cottonwood forest (or Bosque, as we know it) that lines the Rio Grande. Our students are representative of the rich multicultural heritage of our South Broadway neighborhood: over 95% of our students are African American, Chicano/Hispano, or Native American, and one third of our students are bilingual. Though the Bosque is close by, our neighborhood is separated from this riparian habitat by an industrial corridor of fenced-off railroad tracks. Through our Early Birders program, we hope to overcome this and other obstacles that make it difficult for many inner-city and minority children to form strong connections to the natural world.
Each day students spend time in the community garden associated with the school. In addition to providing food for our lunch program, the garden provides food, water, and habitat for birds, such as Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Bullock’s Orioles, Bushtits, Curve-billed Thrashers, House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, Northern Flickers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Western Kingbirds, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, to name a few. Our volunteer master gardener has grown a number of plants especially for these birds, from a variety of sunflowers to cosmos to trumpet vine. In the spring, we plan to establish more native plants for birds and pollinators.
A volunteer naturalist teaches a weekly bird and nature lesson for each of our classes. During these lessons, he introduces a bird of the week and leads a scavenger hunt for common animals and plants in our neighborhood. He has also made a custom field guide of our neighborhood birds, which we keep in the garden and in each classroom. We are working to print bilingual field guides for students to take home and share with their families.
During computer time, students learn the calls and songs of neighborhood birds on Larkwire, and we recently signed-up for an eBird account to report the birds we see in the garden. At the end of the school year, students will choose their favorite neighborhood bird and play this bird in a puppet show. Through this performance, we hope to teach parents and community members not only about neighborhood birds, but also about the common threats they face—from outdoor cats to window strikes, from habitat loss to climate change—and what they can do to help.
In the spring, we hope to build on students’ knowledge of neighborhood plants and animals to introduce them to the flora and fauna of the Rio Grande Bosque by taking field trips to the river. We are also in the process of scheduling visits from local conservation groups, such as Hawks Aloft, the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP), and Central New Mexico Audubon Society.
Ultimately, the goal of the Dorn Community School Early Birders program is to instill a love of nature in our students and, in doing so, to encourage our students to become the next generation of citizen scientists, environmentalists, and conservation biologists.