DOINews: DOI/VISTA Teresa Skiba Establishes Birds of a Feather Program at Valle De Orro National Wildlife Refuge

Last edited 09/05/2019

Two volunteers teaching a group of fourth-graders, who are seated at a table, about birds.
Volunteers Jeannine Kimble and Trevor Branch teach fourth-grade students at Mountain View Elementary School about local bird adaptations.

Teresa Skiba, DOI/VISTA at the U.S. Fish Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) in Albuquerque, N.M., developed the refuge's first environmental curriculum, "Birds of a Feather Explore Together." The program is adapted from the Central New Mexico Audubon Society curriculum, using birds to connect urban audiences to conservation and restoration of the Middle Rio Grande Valley. Volunteer Molly Madden, a former elementary-school teacher, says that through the program it has been “wonderful to see students feel so comfortable in nature, to have a connection to the Rio Grande, and to be able to identify the birds around them.”

The "Birds of a Feather" program is funded by the Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds, which covered costs for materials and transportation, and by the Friends of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, who covered additional transportation costs. "Birds of a Feather" teaches fourth-grade students about local birds and meets New Mexico State Standards. The program includes three classroom visits and three visits to the refuge, allowing local low-income and minority students to establish a personal connection with the refuge and volunteers. Students keep nature journals of field observations at the refuge, as well as along the Rio Grande, and use binoculars to identify the birds they see. The program reached more than 175 fourth-graders in the South Valley of Albuquerque, and this number is anticipated to grow in the coming years. To deliver the program, Skiba recruited six volunteers from the Albuquerque's Master Naturalist Program, The Friends of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge and South Valley Academy High School.

As a DOI/VISTA, Skiba had the wonderful opportunity to develop an education program to foster environmental stewardship and opportunities for youth — who typically do not have access to the outdoors due to the lack of awareness and transportation needs. Skiba's DOI/VISTA service ends this month, but she will continue at Valle de Oro as the refuge's education specialist through the Fish and Wildlife Service. She will be able to continue supporting the "Birds of a Feather" program, giving children access to the world of birds in the unique National Wildlife Refuge of the Rio Grande.

The DOI/VISTA Team is a partnership among the U.S. Department of the Interior, AmeriCorps VISTA, and our DOI site sponsors that places national-service volunteers on public lands to serve impoverished communities and people throughout the United States and its territories. Engaging underserved populations, particularly youth, the DOI/VISTA Team fosters economic opportunities in conservation and land-management fields, STEM education through environmental science awareness, and healthy futures.

Submitted by: DOI/VISTA Team

Feb. 11, 2015

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