Last Wednesday, the Charles H. Barrows STEM academy in North Windham, CT threw its inaugural BioBlitz, and it was an resounding success. For one entire school day, four hundred K-7 students scoured their beautiful new campus with the goal of enumerating its biodiversity for the first time.
Organized and driven by resident technology teacher Jan Tomanelli and others, the BioBlitz saw groups of fifteen students rotating through seven sites, ranging an impressive habitat diversity from courtyard garden to reedy wetland, all surrounded by a remarkably pristine deciduous forest.
Peepers and tree frogs, kingbirds and kestrel. Wolf spiders, chestnuts, and pink lady’s slippers. All totalled, the students identified an impressive 168 species of plants, animals, and fungi, and that is surely an underestimate. Next year, when the students are armed with homemade field guides and the experience of this years Blitz, species counts are certain to skyrocket.
A clouded sulphur.
But for many of us who attended to lend our expert skills, observing biodiversity at the academy was only a tasty side dish. The main course was without question interacting with these incredible youth, all of whom displayed more than enough enthusiasm and excitement to make our eyes a little teary.
Giddy to unearth new critters, proud to report their findings, and anxious to hold (or at least poke) whatever it might be, the spirit of discovery was very much alive among the Barrows students. And to my refreshment, youthful aspiration broke from old stereotypes:
“When you grow up, do you want to be a scientist?” one gregarious young woman asked me, aged perhaps eight or nine. Excited, she continued before I could answer,
“What do you call scientists who like stars?” Again, she wasted no time waiting for me,
Astronomers! That’s what they’re called. I really like the stars, you see. I want to be an astronomer.”
“Do you like the planets, too?” I asked.
“No,” she replied. “I don’t like the planets. Just the stars”
Equally charming and even more invigorating was the post-Blitz assembly. Call-and-response got the blood pumping, and all four hundred students performed a BioBlitz dance to electronic music of their own creation.
All 400 students, after the Blitz.
The whole experience was thoroughly fulfilling and encouraging on so many levels, not the least of which was to boost excitement for the upcoming BioBlitz this summer at Storrs.
The UConn BioBlitz will draw dozens of expert naturalists whose knowledge is literally unparalleled, and offer youth and families the opportunity to learn about nature and science. It will inspire new generations to appreciate biodiversity, to show concern for its threat, and to learn how to get involved in creating knowledge and protecting the environment.
If the UConn BioBlitz goes half as well as the Barrows Blitz, it will be a huge success. Don’t miss it!