Binoculars, books, and bird watching at Old County Road

Binoculars, books, and bird watching at Old County Road

Manny Sully and Vanessa Lachapelle use their binoculars to search for birds outside of Old County Road Elementary School in Smithfield. (Breeze photo by Jackie Roman)

SMITHFIELD – Students at Old County Road Elementary School partnered with the Department of Environmental Management for an afternoon of bird watching last week.

The program, running 8:30 a.m. to noon each day from May 8 to May 10, allowed students of all grade levels to explore the outdoor classroom right behind school grounds.

Students were given binoculars and bird watching books to assist with their outdoor exploration.

The whole initiative is made possible by the Pittman-Robertson Act approved by Congress in 1937. The bill placed a tax on sporting arms, ammunition, and handguns. Funds from those taxes are then distributed to agencies like the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which uses it for wildlife outreach programs like the one implemented at Old County Road.

Mary Grande works for the Fish & Wildlife division of the DEM and helped guide students during last week’s bird watching. She said DEM started the outreach program in March and intends to continue educating students about the wildlife that exists in Rhode Island.

“People don’t even know we have all of this in our own back yards,” said Grande.

Kerrie Murphy’s 3rd-grade class watched birds last Wednesday morning.

“I can see so close!” students exclaimed as they held binoculars up to their eyes, their heads directed toward the sky.

Grande advised students to sit and take in their surroundings before the expedition began.

“Close your eyes, open up your ears, and tell me how many birds you hear,” Grande said.

After a minute one student shouted, “13!”

“I love the exuberance of kids,” said Grande. “I think it’s just nice to get kids outside.”

Students walked along the winding trail, peering up at pine trees to spot an American robin and a little blue heron.

“I found a mushroom,” one student said.

“Where’s Bigfoot?” another joked.

Though Bigfoot never appeared, Murphy said the experience was a success.

“I’m sure future classes would enjoy going out again,” she said.

Bird watching is one of many educational experiences DEM offers to students. The Fish and Wildlife division has immersed children in the Ocean State’s aquatic life with programs like “Salmon in the Classroom.”

“By educating the children you’re creating stewards of the environment,” said Kimberly Sullivan, aquatic resource education coordinator. Sullivan said the aquatic and bird watching programs provide students with a needed respite from technology.

“It reduces stress in students, too,” she said.