Is this real?
I am sitting in one of my favorite spots on the whole earth, my chair in Room 4 with my class gathered around me on the carpet. Each child is hunched over a small white board talking intently with their partner about why the bats in the United States have been dying over the last few years. There is a buzz of energy as they puzzle over what could be killing the bats. Suddenly Jaden C. looks up and captures my gaze, “Mrs. Fante…is this real?”
It is a defining moment for me as I am immediately struck by the power of her question. This year, I made a pedagogical shift as I committed to move from being a hands-on teacher to being an advocacy teacher. For the last 20 years of my teaching career, I have been engaging children. I have worn silly hats, tapped danced, stood on top of my desk, and created side shows of epic proportions. But the truth is, there is always a last curtain call. As the music fades, I move from the active phase of being the teacher to the passive memory of being one of many past teachers. And we both wonder…what happens next?
But what if instead of entertaining, I trained them to find their own answers? What if I empowered them to look at the world through the lens of problem solver seekers? What if they believed, they could spend their lives making the world better? And so we begin. This year, we are going to #savethebats.
Our year-long bat conservation project came out of my own passion for the bats that live in my backyard. My husband and I like to think our bats know us as they swoop low and close to catch the bugs our bodies bring. When my neighbor’s 100 year old willow came down, we anxiously waited for them. When their black bodies flitted into twilight skies, it was sweet relief. Mike turned to me causally and said, “You should help the bats this year, it fits with F.L.I.G.HT.”
By 5:00AM his comment had blossomed into curriculum as I thought about what an environmental focus would mean to my classroom. I was thrilled to realize one of the premiere bat conservations groups was just 12 miles away from my school at Cranbrook Institute of Science. The timing was almost supernatural, as the OBC (Organization for Bat Conservation) was hosting a bio-blitz event to talk about how to help bats.
Team Fante went to Cranbrook on a gorgeous late summer evening and discovered the bats were losing more than just willows. At a lecture hosted by the OBC’s charismatic Rob Mies, he shared the bats are facing many threats, including fighting the white nosed syndrome and loss of habitat. Julia Liljegren of the Nation Wildlife Federation talked about creating a backyard habitat to help local bats.
Mike and I decided to start right away. On the home front, he went to work ripping out the non-native plants in our landscape and replacing them with butterfly bushes and bee balm. At school, I reached out the Holly Vaughn a local DNR officer who had worked with my class on invasive species, Danielle Todd of the (OBC) Organization for Bat Conservation, and Julia from NWF (National Wildlife Federation). Our google hangout led to a list of action steps. By the time the other teachers were back at school, I was ready to share my vision for a community garden.
I committed myself to set aside a few hours each week to work on grant writing at home and at school we kicked off our introduction to our science curriculum with a F.L.I.G.HT. Bat Festival. We spent the morning doing Bat Yoga and doing bat research, and in the afternoon the kids got to experience Batty Stations. They worked on earning digital badges from the OBC. At the Lego Engineering station they created their own bat species, at the Echolocation Station they experimented with their ears to understand the importance of sound, and at the Bat Biologist Station they weighed, measure, and ID plastic and stuffed animal bats.
The last two weeks have been filled with bats. My kids have read, researched, and blogged about bats. We talked about the best ways to help the bats, and each child created a design for a bat garden. I even used one of their designs in my Wild Ones Seeds Grant Application. And this is just the beginning as we use the bat project all year to ask meaningful questions and find answers for how we can #savethebats.
This year, I have in the words of Steven Covey, “begin with the end in mind”. So on that last day, they will have an answer to what happens next. What happens next is them. They will go off into the world, with one years’ experience on their young resumes under the advocacy section. They will be ready to #savethe______, and I believe that will make all the difference.