Achieving my Dream: The UWEC Nature Academy
We’ve had a few questions about what exactly we are doing at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Children’s Nature Academy as it is so different from what we have done in the past. It all started because of Becky Wurzer, who saw the need for a Bluebird Trail at the new facility.
The University recently acquired St. Bede’s, an old monastery, as the Campus School was demolished to make room for a new education building. While it’s a little far from campus, I believe it’s a special place with a lot of amazing opportunities. The Priory, as the whole campus is called, includes 81,000 square feet of building space within the 112 acres. There are many trails, meeting spaces, and perhaps dorms. There is so much that can be done with this area!
The Bluebird Restoration Project was invited to share the wonder of birds with the summer camp attendees. We needed to set up a trail, and we enlisted the help of Shane Laudal, a Boy Scout completing his Eagle Award. We put ten nest boxes around the main buildings. But as you know, they aren’t just boxes!
This opportunity to connect with students during the summer months is what naturalists dream of. Summer programing at the Priory lasts 12 weeks, with a focus on weekly and special activities. In schools, teachers are limited to study birds for one or two weeks due to curriculum constraints. During the regular academic season, birds are not as active as they are in the late spring and summer.
It was such an amazing space, and we began dreaming of a weekly summer program to educate the children about becoming Citizen Scientists through monitoring. Through our collaboration with the teachers and administration, it became apparent that the habitat at the Priory gave us an incredible opportunity for hands-on learning.
My goal for the summer was to give UWEC the information (and the inspiration!) to make bird study a magical and educational experience. On our past trails, monitoring with children has provided unforgettable and irreplaceable memories and life lessons. Being able to connect and follow through with our lessons has been a dream of mine. We are able to monitor weekly, something that was missing when I worked with schools.
I have been helped on this mission through students in the community. Hayley Kubler, English major and senior at UWEC has been instrumental in the development of our curriculum at the Academy along with this blog. Sarah Liming and Michaela Pittenger are earning their Girl Scout Silver Awards by teaching these students to be citizen scientists and make an impact in our community. Together, we have been showing the importance of technology and nature.
Kids these days have so many ways to play and care for virtual pets online. As I watched technology grow, I noticed adults and children watching their crops in FarmVille and feeding pets on Webkinz.
I was truly amazed at the impact it had our lives. When I started working at Advanced Micro Devices in 1989, I never imagined the technology industry would change our experiences with nature. It wasn’t until 2005 that I began to observe the growing disconnect between the virtual world and the real world when it came to nature.
Monitoring birds became a passion for me after I was able to work with my daughters and other neighborhood kids on our Bluebird Trails. I know we’ve talked about the importance of becoming a citizen scientist and the impact on your community! As a mother, a woman, and a citizen of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, taking on this title has helped me meet people from all over the state and all over the country. I see how nature works through them and it inspires me. Living with Multiple Sclerosis and the loss of my dream of the corner glass office in my high heels and red lipstick was like losing that version of myself; a young ambitious women in her 20s with her dreams.
MS and the devastation the symptoms have caused gave me the precious gift of time to learn about my new dreams, my new hopes, and my new ideals. Forget about crashing through the glass ceiling; I have crashed through glass walls. This project has taught me to overcome my limitations and work with my community to leave it better than I found it.
At the UWEC Children’s Nature Academy, the curriculum is based on learning in nature through opening our eyes, listening with our ears, and not being afraid of getting a bit dirty. On our walks we are using our eyes to watch the parents feed their nestlings. When we visit a nest box we have to be quick as we hear the loud chatter of the parents warning us. We are aware.
In nature, we are visitors. Students and I have learned we can either help by engaging, or we can destroy by ignoring. This is a life lesson that extends to our interactions with the world. Being aware of those around us connects our community.
Nature allows us time to breathe, believe, and be. Be aware and believe we are making a difference. Breathe, and take that time to watch and listen. By creating, motivating, and inspiring the community to explore nature and use their online time effectively, we honor each other and restore our natural habitat.