Bridging the Americas Through Bird Migration

There are over 200 species of birds that connect Latin America and the United States through their annual migrations. And through an intercultural, interdisciplinary program from the Smithsonian, Grade 4 students at St. Anne’s-Belfield not only learn about these birds, but also about the children who live along the birds’ migratory paths. This year, those lessons came with a different understanding about the global nature of the pandemic and what it means to be a citizen of the world.

a student in Columbia reviews information about birds

photo courtesy of Selva

Bridging the Americas/Unidos por las Aves pairs students from classrooms in the U.S. with those in Latin America. Close to 30,000 students have participated since 1993 from Virginia, D.C., Maryland, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, the British Virgin Islands, Colombia, and Cuba. 

This past fall was St. Anne’s third year participating in the program as part of an interdisciplinary Spanish and science unit. Like previous classes before them, Grade 4 students studied the migratory birds, then diligently sent information about both the birds and the School to their partner school in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region in Colombia. Then, like waiting for the return of migratory birds in the spring, they patiently watched for a return package from their partner classrooms. But a package never arrived.

Due to COVID-19, schools in Colombia have been closed for more than a year. Lack of internet connectivity and access to electronic devices in rural areas meant that kids have not had much, if any schooling.

students in Columbia read about birds

photo courtesy of Selva

“This year’s circumstances provided an opportunity to teach the students about the global nature of the pandemic and the way that different communities were impacted,” says Señora Erica Roth, Middle School Spanish/MS Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Coordinator/Dorm Parent.

While not the traditional global pen pal experience, students in Columbia instead were able to use the materials provided by St. Anne’s-Belfield and other U.S. schools as part of a “Fly High Bird Club” created by the Smithsonian to provide educational activities while Columbian schools remain closed.

a student in Columbia reads a book titled "Winged Ambassadors"

photo courtesy of Selva

Says Mary Deinlein, Bird Conservation/Education Specialist for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, “The youngsters in the Sierra are enthusiastic and in desperate need of productive educational activities, especially now when their normal schooling has been so badly affected by the pandemic.” More activities on migratory bird conservation are being planned for the children soon, and the collaboration with St. Anne’s is expected to continue in the 2021-22 school year.

“The program highlights the importance of taking care of the earth, and the ways that humans must come together globally to make change,” Roth says. “It felt increasingly important during such an isolating year and demonstrated the need for human connection and empathy, while fostering intercultural communication skills that focused on taking care of animals and the planet.”


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