Partnership with Portland public schools means fieldwork for all

Wabanaki cultural educators Mihku Paul (left) and Minquansis Sapiel (right) with first graders

May is a particularly beautiful and busy time at Maine Audubon's Gilsland Farm Audubon Center in Falmouth. Migratory birds return and nest, plants bloom, and the woods and pond teem with wildlife after a long and quiet winter. It is also a time when we welcome many school groups to explore the charms of nature in spring.

This month, Maine Audubon was especially pleased to host every First graders from Portland Public Schools (PPS) during their district-wide fieldwork: 500 students! This field experience is part of the first class unit called Friends who run, swim and flywhich is part of the integrated Wabanaki Studies and Life Sciences curriculum. This introductory experience was co-designed and facilitated by Katie West of PPS and Mihku Paul, member of the Maliseet.

With the help of Maine Audubon educators, PPS environmental education teachers, and Wabanaki cultural facilitators, students were led through four activities during their visit. Students made seed balls to help spread native plant seeds, hiked through the forest with magnifying glasses and binoculars, searched for macroinvertebrates and frogs at the pond, and learned about Native language and culture as well as ways to explore and connect with nature. It was a week of joy, discovery, and curiosity that we hope to repeat in years to come.

Making seed balls to help spread native plant seeds with Molly Woodring, Maine Audubon's assistant director of education
Search for macroinvertebrates and frogs at the pond

In mid-May, Maine Audubon also partnered with Portland Public Schools to release more than 1,500 fingerlings of the endangered Atlantic salmon that every third-grader in Portland had been raising in their classroom since February. For the fourth year, with the help of Fish Friends, each school received a permit from the Maine Department of Marine Resources to raise and release fingerlings in the Little River in Lisbon Falls, part of the Androscoggin River Basin.

Watch the video of our release here!

Salmon farming in the classroom is a student project that extends third-grade learning related to life cycles, river ecology, dams and human impacts on migratory fish, and opportunities for management and restoration. Because it is a district-wide initiative, it provides all Portland students with a shared learning experience that is directly linked to the Wabanaki Studies and Life Sciences curriculum.

Maine Audubon continues to value programs that are equitable, sustainable, and build connections to nature. We are proud of the district-wide experiences we provided for PPS students this year, including Maple Thanksgiving and the third grade visit to Gambo Dam in September. We look forward to more district-wide work!

Exploring the forest with a magnifying glass

Anna Harden

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