by Amanda Nowicki, Lloyd Center Educator/Naturalist

Blue jay at feeder – click to enlarge

Feathery Focus is a multi-encounter program that has been taught by the Lloyd Center for the Environment Education Department for 18 years. Students in many school districts, including Dartmouth, Fairhaven, Fall River, and Westport, have benefited from this experience. The Lloyd Center collaborates with the Westport River Watershed Alliance for the ongoing programming occurring in the Westport schools.

Lloyd Center Feathery Focus programs are vital in conveying broader concepts like vertebrate vs invertebrate, habitat descriptions, and animal migration. This year, due to the unique situation caused by COVID-19, the Lloyd Center is unable to provide hands-on lessons for this program. This has not stopped us! Lloyd Center educators are currently adapting these in-class programs into virtual experiences. We are working directly with the Dartmouth school district and its teachers to reformat the program in a way that will support teachers in standards-based curriculum, while at the same time remain fun and engaging for the students.

During the in-class version of these programs, Lloyd Center educators visit the students in their classroom once a month. The topic for each visit is based on a particular feature of a bird or its lifestyle. Educators cover such topics as bird anatomy, habitat, migration, field marks, and songs. Each lesson begins with a discussion about any local bird activity students have noticed. Educators and students then fly right into the topic of the day and explore the science and facts about the lesson, diving deeper with a hands-on activity. Students either play a game, use tools like magnifying glasses to examine bird feathers, or use tweezers to try and pick up food mimicking the beak of a bird, to name a few examples.

House finch – click to enlarge

While the restrictions of COVID-19 have presented challenges to the normal way of teaching Feathery Focus, Lloyd Center educators are eager to move forward with transforming it into a virtual program. Educators are diligently working on reformatting lessons while keeping them fun and engaging as always. A new teaching space has been set up in the Lloyd Center’s Education Department to specifically accommodate Feathery Focus lessons. Educators will actively engage students though discussions, questions, answers, and visuals. Challenges will be presented to students during each lesson. Lloyd Center educators will perform the hands-on part of the lessons for students based on their responses to the challenge. Picking up a wiggly worm out of a cup of soil with chopsticks will demonstrate a bird catching its food. The virtual program is new to all, educators and students alike, and is a learning experience as we move forward. The Lloyd Center is determined and willing to do whatever it takes to continue to provide much needed, and much loved, environmental education to the local community.

I have been teaching Feathery Focus for 15 years. I personally have had students stop me at the grocery store and say “Hey, you’re the bird lady!” or students who are now grown and working, ask me “Didn’t you teach me about birds in the third grade?” Feathery Focus not only reinforces the curriculum students are learning in school, but is also a program that they enjoy, and it remains with them through the years.