Exploring the idea of how might they create an environmental learning experience for the Mount Vernon Community, Innovative Technology Coordinator, Amanda Stavropoulos and second grade teacher, Sarah Stephenson recently turned an idea into a reality. Receiving a $500 grant from the Captain Planet Foundation, the two faculty members took their idea to the students and collectively they built a bird sanctuary/observation area for classes and the residents of Mount Vernon Village to enjoy.

Upon receiving the grant, the students became highly involved in the implementation. They went through the design thinking process to discover bird habitats and specifically the types of birds that live in this area. ​They also researched what others have done to create bird sanctuaries in their back yards. Then they empathized with the needs of birds as well as the needs of the people who will be using the area. Partnering with Wild Birds Unlimited and Premier Growers, they interviewed experts as well as interviewed teachers, students, and bird enthusiasts. ​Students took nature walks around campus​ to determine the best areas for our sanctuary. They narrowed it down to three areas and made persuasive videos for Head of Lower School Shelley Clifford who helped select the final location. Once Ms. Clifford chose the area–now located in the green space between the Fellowship Hall and Mount Vernon Village–students experimented with different prototypes to determine the best design. ​After many iterations and a design was agreed upon, the class began the production phase.

Students cleaned the area, planted flowers and blueberry bushes, ​and helped put up bird houses and feeders. For observers to have places to sit, the students designed benches for the adults and decorative paving stones for the students. After making the measurements for the benches, music teacher John Grove shared that his neighbor recently had a tree fall in his yard and that he had chopped it up into stumps. To keep a more natural and rustic feel, the group decided to use the stumps as the adult seating.

On May 21, the students held a dedication ceremony to present the area to Shelley Clifford, the residents of Mount Vernon Village, and the rest of the second grade. Dedicating the bird sanctuary to the school’s beloved librarian Jody Travis, who is retiring this year–the students surprised her by letting her cut the ceremonial ribbon. What a fitting tribute to a woman who touched the lives of so many at Mount Vernon.

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