June 25, 2017
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Bird songs of learning sing out at University Elementary

By: Emily Fedorko
April 21, 2017

Students of all ages, parents, and teachers flocked together for the “Bird Power Exhibit” at University Elementary School this past week.  The exhibit was showcasing the works of Ryan Kurada’s first grade students from a 2- months long project on all birds.  Long projects like this one, started in February and ending in April, are a regular part of Kurada’s project-based learning curriculum and have a way of bringing the Rohnert Park community together in unexpected ways. 

The exhibit highlighted the wide range of subjects the kids covered while learning about birds.  For example, they learned math through measuring wing span, science through investigating bird anatomy and habitats, and English language arts through writing from the perspective of bird prey.  The exhibit not only demonstrated the new knowledge and skills they obtained but the benefits of the community and schools coming together.     

The idea for this project came from the University’s close proximity to a channel of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, where over 200 species of birds were sighted by Cotati resident and Chief of Interpretation at Point Reyes National Seashore, John Dell’Osso.  This combined with a student bringing in their pet Love Bird to show the class, put the Bird Power Project in motion.  Kurada with help of fellow teacher, Jessica Haye used this list of 200 species to have each student choose a bird to “adopt” as the focus of their project.  In order to “think like a bird” Kurada had the students create replicas of their specific bird, type of nest and habitat, which were all put on display in the exhibit.  

These kids soared at the opportunity to be the ornithologists, dissecting owl pellets as well as activists, building structures out of recycled materials for birds to live in and have fresh water.  “They really had a passion for protecting those birds, that’s how you know a project really hits home, it’s not just an assignment by a teacher it’s a real thing” says Kurada.          

Sonoma State University students volunteered in the classroom and at the exhibit.  Local non-profits, Native Songbird Care and Conservation of Sebastopol and The Bird Rescue Center of Santa Rosa were big collaborators as well.  Workshops were taught what to do if one finds a lone or injured bird, how to transport birds to these care centers, how to safely observe eggs and nests and interactive education with trained bird handlers.

Rancho Cotati High School students assisted in the project while Kurada’s students were learning what birds needed to survive.  The kids spent a day each paired up with a high school student in Ashley Thurston’s ceramics class making bird baths and in Bill Hartman’s wood shop class making bird houses.  “You would think that the high school kids did all the work but it was such a collaborative process, talking through the steps and working together.  They became such patient, caring and attentive teachers to my kids,” says Kurada about Rancho students.