CAP LTER's summer ecology program for low-income children

Network News Fall 2009, Vol. 22 No. 2
Site News

Summer in the city often involves more time inside than outside, particularly for low-income children who cannot afford to attend summer camps. This summer, I developed an ecology program for around 25 low-income children ages 7-14, using the kits and lesson plans developed by CAP LTER's Schoolyard program, "Ecology Explorers."

As the Programs Coordinator for "Helping Hands Housing Services Casa de Paz Sahuaro," my goal was to pull kids away from their televisions and MP3 players and get them outdoors to learn and have fun. Children attending my summer ecology program were from families that lived in Casa de Paz Sahuaro, an apartment complex owned by Helping Hands Housing Services. Helping Hands is a non-profit organization whose mission is to break the cycle of poverty for low-income families by providing permanent affordable housing and comprehensive support services.

While an undergraduate at Arizona State University, I worked as an outreach intern for Ecology Explorers, helping promote and recruit teachers for the program at community events and conventions, and providing administrative support. Three years later, I decided to partner again with Ecology Explorers to reach these underprivileged children at Helping Hands

Casa de Paz Sahuaro is located at the base of North Mountain in Phoenix. While the children may have limited space to play inside, behind their apartments is a whole new world for exploration and learning. I wanted the kids to see the creepy crawlers and the variety of feathered friends that live right in their backyard!

In two separate outings, we hiked almost half a mile up the mountain and set arthropod pitfall traps. Our first collection only yielded a few bugs, including a beetle, a bee, and a small spider, but that did not dampen our young explorers' enthusiasm and curiosity.

We reset the traps and, two days later, found more exciting creatures, including a medium-sized scorpion. The kids put their findings in a display case to examine them more closely and to remember the types of arthropods they discovered in the desert behind their apartments.

After their discoveries on the ground, our kids looked to the skies and the trees using binoculars and guide books from the bird kit. The bilingual guides gave the mostly Spanish-speaking parents a chance to participate with their kids. Working in pairs or as families, they observed a variety of birds that were right outside their windows and made bird feeders to attract even more.

Thanks to Ecology Explorers, children at Casa de Paz Sahuaro had an opportunity to gain an appreciation of and learn about their environment through hands-on science activities.

Katie Mills is the Programs Coordinator for Helping Hands Housing Services Casa de Paz Sahuaro