A lesson for the birds

By SASHA JOHNS / Community Columnist

A 25-year veteran of her profession, Martha Bentley found that the sweet spot of her career has been teaching the gifted kids of Elvin Hill. Kids in third through fifth grade who receive gifted services have one day a week in her classroom with other kids of their grade level and they follow a special curriculum that is tailored to the needs of their learning style.

This year, her last year before retirement, Bentley had the opportunity to do something special with her students that will benefit the entire student body. Earlier this year, she applied for a grant that was being offered by the Alabama Audubon Society that would provide funds for a group of students to create a learning environment that educated others about bird populations and conservancy.

Elvin Hill has had an outdoor classroom in a wooded area of the campus for years. Bentley’s proposal for the grant was that her students would create a nature trail on the way to the outdoor classroom with stops that would have educational signs about common birds native to the area. Her students would do the research about each of the nine birds to be highlighted, and Scott Owen, a local graphic artist, would help the students by creating weatherproof signs to correlate with their research. There would also be complimentary signs to educate trail wanderers about environmental science concepts the students have been learning about this year on the topics such as producers, consumers and decomposers.

They were delighted when they won the grant, which provided for the signs as well as several high powered binoculars for the students to use for their ongoing nature studies. They were also given some funds from the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce that have been used for five bird houses and three large bird feeders to make a welcoming environment for their feathered friends.

Once the grant was won, the kids got to work on their plans to realize their proposal and then went a step further by planning to participate in Bama Bird Day on May 17, by hosting a tour of their new nature trail for the entire student body. Student guides were stationed at each educational sign to give their guests a short lesson about each bird, and they even used tablets to play the bird song for the travelers to hear before they moved on to the next station. Other students served as welcoming guides and follow up guides at both ends of the trails.

First grade teacher Samantha Foster’s comments summed up the success of the day when she told us this about how her class responded to the special outdoor lesson.

“Mrs. Bentley and her students went above and beyond with their project,” she said. “They were so knowledgeable and presented their materials beautifully. My students were caught talking about how much they learned about the different birds, and how much they loved the trail!”

As Bentley looks forward to retirement as this year closes, her hope is that this trail will be something all the students of EHES enjoy for years to come.