HERKIMER — Honor students from three local school districts recently spent a day with birds of prey, including a screech owl and a peregrine falcon as part of the Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Arts-in-Education service.
Cynthia Page, owner of the Page Wildlife Center in Manlius, put on the presentation for some fourth-grade honor students from the three districts — Central Valley, Herkimer and Poland — who signed up for the program through Herkimer BOCES.
During the full-school-day-long lesson at BOCES, the children learned about the natural history of the birds of prey, were taught how to draw the birds and inanimate objects, conducted research about the birds in books and on laptops, wrote papers about the birds and spoke to the classroom about what they learned.
Page said it’s “a wonderful feeling” to help the students build upon various skills during the lesson and “a pleasure” to share the birds with them.
“To be able to see some of these birds up close and personal, and take back a lot of facts, it’s just an awesome thing,” she said. “If I was this age, I would have loved this.”
In total, seven birds of prey — an eagle owl, peregrine falcon, barn owl, barred owl, sparrow hawk, turkey vulture and screech owl — stood on perches in front of the classroom in the Herkimer BOCES conference room, as students excitedly asked questions about the birds, drawing techniques and other aspects of the lesson.
Page has been helping rehabilitate animals for about 40 years, and she has been running educational programs for students for about 20 years.
During the lesson, she talks about her rehabilitation efforts, but she stresses that it’s a job for adults — not children. The birds of prey she takes to the classroom are ones that are unable to return to the wild.
Herkimer BOCES Arts-in-Education Coordinator Carol Dumka said she thinks the birds are beautiful, and she appreciates that the students have time to go into more depth with their lesson because a whole day is set aside for it.
“These are things they’ll never see up close in any other class,” Dumka said. “It’s one thing if you read it in a book. It’s another if you actually see the birds.”
For example, Page showed how one owl originally from a warmer climate has fewer feathers and how an owl from a snowy climate has more feathers.
Also, Page showed the students the ear of an owl by having the owl part its feathers.
“And you could see their jaws drop,” Page said.
At the end of the lesson, students were given suggestions about related reading they could do.
“Just to keep it carrying on and on,” Page said.
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Page, who went to college for art and biology at SUNY Potsdam, also focuses her lesson heavily on drawing techniques.
During a session on Nov. 6 with fourth-graders from Central Valley, Herkimer and Poland, she advised students to squint when first looking at something they’re going to draw, so they can begin by concentrating on the major shapes.
Page said that if you look for shapes such as ovals, triangles and rectangles in anything you’re going to draw, then the process becomes simpler.
“We break down the barriers that it’s hard,” she said. “It really is easy.”
Many people think they’re either naturally good or bad at drawing, but just like playing basketball or the trumpet requires repetition to perfect – so does drawing, Page said.
“You’re good at things when you practice,” she said.
Having an art project based on objects and birds that the students can see in person makes a big difference, Dumka said.
“The birds are right there,” Dumka said.
Being able to draw and apply the skill during their life will help students understand how things are put together, Page said.
“It’s very important to me that drawing is very relevant to them,” she said. “No matter what they do in life, if they draw it, they’ll understand it better.”