Friends of Whitfield announces its essay contest winners

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The Friends of Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area held their first student essay contest, and honored the winners at the annual business meeting.

Participating students wrote 200-300 word essays on the theme, “Why Does Whitfield Matter,” which was part of the fourth grade educational program, “Birds of a Feather Explore Together.”

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area essay contest winners are, from left, Desert View Elementary fourth-grader Aracely Ramirez-Flores, took first place; Sophia Rosa, of La Merced Elementary, second place; and Arianna Gurule, of Rio Grande Elementary, third place.

Aracely Ramirez-Flores, of Desert View Elementary, took first place; Sophia Rosa, of La Merced Elementary, won second place; and Arianna Gurule, of Rio Grande Elementary, won third place.

The students read their essays to the Friends’ members, family and friends.

The educational experience changed Ramirez-Flores’ view of the world because Whitfield helped her realize nature is strong, but delicate, too, she told the audience.

“It is an important place in our community where anybody can sit, hike and watch nature without loud noises and distractions,” Ramirez-Flores said. “A day at Whitfield can change people’s perspective of wildlife and the land.”

The second-place winner gave a short history of Whitfield in her essay, and listed some of the wildlife that can be seen in the area.

“At Whitfield, they do not feed animals, instead they let them hunt on their own,” Rosa said.

Gurule wrote about the ecological diversity of plants, flowers and animals.

“Whitfield gives animals a safe habitat to live in,” Gurule said.

Ramirez-Flores won a set of field binoculars and a copy of the “Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America.” The second- and third-place winners each received a copy of the Sibley bird guide.

The essay contest is the brainchild of Chuck Brandt, a member of Friends of Whitfield, and the essays were judged by the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus English Department.

There were five honorable mentions, including McKinley Norcross and Neasha Williams, of La Merced; Ivan Saenz, of Desert View; Hailie Izabella Baca, of Rio Grande Elementary; and Isaiah Candelaria, of Central Elementary.

Whitfield’s education program is taught by volunteer educators Molly Madden, Evelyn Brower and Inez Sisneros. They are retired teachers from Belen Consolidated Schools and have taught the program for the past three years.

The curriculum is designed with a focus on birds as a way to understand habitats and wildlife in New Mexico. It is based on a Santa Fe Audubon program, developed by Randall Davey.

“It’s a pretty developed curriculum that meets fourth-grade science standards,” said Madden, education coordinator. “We love doing it. They are so interested, and fourth-graders are so smart and confident that they can do a lot of very good scientific investigation. They record information, they ask us questions, they research and we have a really good time.”

The teachers take the program into the classrooms four times, and then for the fifth and final class session, students go to Whitfield on a research and study trip.

The essay contest was added with the hope to make it an annual contest.

During this school year, the three teachers have met with about 3,700 students and teachers in Valencia County schools.

“We have tried to be available to support teachers of any grade level who want to bring their students to Whitfield, but fourth grade is the only grade where we have multiple visits with a class,” Madden said.

Sue Stake and Peter Lupsha have recently volunteered to join and are currently working to learn about the programs, so they can lead programs in the 2013-14 school year.

The classroom lessons include information about Whitfield, the Audubon of New Mexico and all about birds — bird adaptations in their skulls, eggs, talons, nests, beak adaptations, the purpose of feathers and migration.

Students were instructed on how to gather information about specific birds using field guides and observation at Whitfield using binoculars and recording their data in journals. One of the research tasks included discovering the food web as it is illustrated by owl pellets.

“My goal, as an educator, is for us to reach every fourth-grader in Belen and Los Lunas schools,” Madden said. “Then we know that every child in the community has had this opportunity in environmental education, instead of just a couple of schools.”

The Friends of Whitfield also provide a bus scholarship through the Community Education Fund to pay Belen and Los Lunas school buses to bring students to Whitfield.

“We have donations, regular fundraisers and grants to raise money for this fund,” Madden said. “We spend about $2,000 each year on buses.”

Students are asked for a $1 donation when they come to Whitfield, which helps the bus fund as well. The classroom lessons require a variety of resources, all of which are purchased through the Community Education Fund.

The program is offered to all grade levels, and high school teachers are welcome to schedule visits for science and biology projects.

Educators can email Molly Madden at whitfieldeducation@gmail.com to answer any questions or to schedule the program.

For general information, contact Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area at 864-8914, or visit the website at www.whitfieldwildlife.org.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.