United by the love of birds!

By Dionné Mejía

October 2019

Haga clic aquí para leer este blog en español.

This is the second year of the Willamette-Laja Migratory Bird Youth Education program, which unites elementary school students bi-nationally through ecological education and the shared language of Spanish. Students in the Willamette River Valley in Oregon and in the Laja River Valley in the Mexican state of Guanajuato are learning about the species of birds, or aves, and other species they share.

This year, four English-Spanish dual immersion schools are participating in the Willamette Valley, including Garfield and Lincoln in Corvallis, South Shore in Albany, and El Puente in Milwaukie. In the Laja region, three schools in the city of San Miguel de Allende and two schools in the rural communities of Juan Xido Cabras and San Franco are participating.

“My main interest in this project, without a doubt, is to awaken the interest of children for the care and protection of the environment,” says Paola Rangel, a principal instructor engaging Guanajuato rural schools. “They are at an ideal stage of development to learn to view the world from an environmental education perspective.”

Bird puzzles by students at Emiliano Zapata elementary school in San Franco, Guanajuato, Mexico

Bird puzzles by students at South Shore elementary school in Albany, Oregon

Students color pieces of two bird “puzzles” and put them together to make colorful representations of two shared birds. This one is by students at Lincoln Elementary School in Corvallis, Oregon.

In June 2019, four Willamette Valley teachers visited schools in San Miguel de Allende and met with the instructors and students at their “sister schools”

The Aves program has expanded from just a single Mexican school last year to five Mexican schools this year thanks in part to a teacher exchange that occurred in June 2019. Four teachers from Corvallis and Albany flew to Guanajuato for a week and had the opportunity to visit natural protected areas, meet with instructors and river restoration partners, and visit elementary schools. This trip helped to form new partnerships, including a partnership with Audubon de México, an organization that is working with three urban elementary schools in the city of San Miguel de Allende.

Images of La Parroquia church of San Miguel in Guanajuato, Mexico

View of San Miguel from Montes de Oca elementary school; Oregon students are learning about the cities where their sister schools are located and the natural areas that surround them

In September, students in Oregon and Guanajuato began learning about birds through artwork and hands-on projects. They also had the opportunity to virtually “meet” for the first time through a video exchange.

In the videos, students in Guanajuato introduced themselves to their new friends. “Hello friends in Oregon, we are kids at the Emiliano Zapata elementary school in San Franco, Guanajuato. We send you a big hug! Talk to you soon!”

The students in Oregon responded, “Hello friends in Guanajuato, we are 4th graders at South Shore elementary school in Albany, Oregon. We are so happy to meet you! Adios!”
“My students are getting excited to visit the United States one day after learning about their friends in Oregon,” says Muriel Fonseca, one of the program instructors in Guanajuato. Alyssa Powell, a 4th grade teacher at South Shore elementary school says many of her students are native Spanish speakers and some have even travelled to or lived in Mexico. In the coming months, each student will write an individual pen-pal letter to their new international amigo. Some classrooms will also participate in live video calls where they will have the opportunity to ask questions to their new friends about life in another country.

Maestra Powell’s class at South Shore Elementary in Albany, Oregon, poses with their artwork to send a video message to their friends in Guanajuato, Mexico

For more information or to make a donation to the Willamette-Laja Migratory Bird Youth Education program, visit the program’s website.

The many partners and sponsors in this program include Institute for Applied Ecology, Marys River Watershed Council, Greenbelt Land Trust, Benton Soil and Water Conservation District, Calapooia Watershed Council, Cascade Pacific Resource Conservation and Development, Oregon Natural Resources Conservation District, Rosario Franco and family, Willamette River Initiative, International River Foundation, Instituto Tecnolȯgico Superior de Irapuato (ITESI), Cuerpos de Conservación Guanajuato, Salvemos al Rio Laja, Audubon de México and El Charco del Ingenio.

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