For more than two decades, School in the Park has been a favorite field trip for Mt. Lebanon third graders as they approach the end of the school year. This year’s event, organized by the Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy, began yesterday and will run through Friday in Bird Park. Nearly 400 third-graders from all seven district elementary schools will enjoy the program over the course of the week.
School in the Park supplements the third grade curriculum, which in spring is focused on animal studies. The event gives the students a more hands-on learning experience while participating in activities based on five different habitats found within the park: stream, forest, field, bird and invertebrate.
At the bird station, students learn how to identify birds by looking at wings, feet and feathers; they learn about a bird’s habitat, and then they finish the exercise by dissecting owl pellets to learn about the owl’s diet.
Susie Toman, a member of Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy, was the presenter at the bird station yesterday morning. Like Toman, all of the presenters are volunteers from the Conservancy who have experience in environmental science, many of whom are professionals in the field. The event also uses parent volunteers and other volunteers from the community, including more than a dozen students from the high school who have chosen environmental science as an elective.
Seven sessions keep the stations small and interactive, with some in the morning and some in the afternoon, spread over the course of the week. Each elementary school has its own session, so the event started small with 39 students from Foster yesterday morning, and its largest group will be 76 students from Washington this afternoon.
School in the Park is an important part of the curriculum, and it happens rain or shine (though the kids seem to enjoy it just as much when they are trudging through the mud). It even happens as scheduled in the event of thunder— it simply moves into Markham.
“It’s so important for kids to know that this is in their backyards,” says Toman. “They learn how the animals adapt in their own habitats, and they see how important it is to preserve this sanctuary for them.”