In 2003 Margaret and I learned that the failure rate in Science on the mandated tests by students in Title One Schools was nearly 100%. A Title One School is one where families are so poor that the students received free breakfast and free lunch. . . . There has been a lot written and researched on the problem. One well written book is Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. He calls the problem Nature Deficit Disorder. We thought that we could help overcome this “Disorder” by inviting all fifth grade students, in selected schools in Austin and San Antonio, to come to the ranch for three days and two nights. Our goal was to awaken and nourish in these children a passion for learning about the natural world.
We all worked together to develop a curriculum that took place mostly out on the ranch, a 5500 acre classroom! The program was offered free to the schools. Their commitment was to measure results and to transport the students to us. It’s been a phenomenal success! Here are some of the activities taking place and the people bringing the programs to 5th grade kids from J. J. Pickle Elementary School in Austin.
Sallie Delahoussaye who has devoted many, many years of her life to rehabilitating raptors, shows the kids a Harris’ Hawk. The hawk is 22 years old and Sallie has had it for 21 years! Photograph taken by Justin Duke.
The hawk was robbed from the nest by the hands of some well meaning person who didn’t understand the needs of raptors. It was housed in a small wire cage, which is the worst thing you can do for any wild bird – it thrashed around in the cage breaking its feathers – its diet was probably hamburger whereas a raptor needs whole-animal prey such as mice – they need the calcium they get from the bones – without the calcium they develop metabolic bone diseases. When their diet is low in calcium, their body uses what calcium there is to carry on metabolism – This hawk has very limited flight ability as flight requires rotation of bones. All of this because of a poor diet. This bird can never be released. This sad case is all because of human ignorance, interfering in Mother Nature’s world.
Ed Sones, a rehabilitator and volunteer, holds another raptor species, a Mississippi Kite.
This bird had fallen out of a nest when only two days old. The nest was high up -100 feet in a tall pine tree in Houston. It was taken to a rehabilitator who fed him properly – crickets and mice. The rehabilitator worried about the bird imprinting on people as that was all he saw since falling from the nest. At four weeks he was brought to Ed Sones in Austin, but rehabilitators couldn’t find anyone around Austin who had any of this species. Ed took the bird to Lubbock. By this time, he was two months old. Even though with the six of his own species, he did not go on the migration with them. Instead he flew the neighborhood – landing with very sharp talons on people’s head and shoulders during outdoor barbeques, a danger to all. He was brought back to Ed who transferred him to Sallie, who now uses him for education programs such as this with J. J. Pickle Elementary School from Austin. Photograph taken by Justin Duke.
All guests are met at the “Historical Marker.” The burial site of man! Here Colleen Gardner, Executive Director of Bamberger Ranch Preserve, greets and orients the students as to what they will experience these next three days. Photograph taken by Justin Duke.
Scott Grote, Ranch Operations, demonstrates his horse and how helpful it is to him in rounding up cattle and goats. He explains just what a ranch does that contributes to their lives. The kids can touch and feel the horse. They are amazed as most only see a horse in a movie or television. Photograph taken by Colleen Gardner.
Here Justin Duke, Ranch Steward, has the young people in the water where they will sift out pond critters and later put them under a microscope to study life in the water. We supply all the boots and gear needed for all the programs. The extreme drought this year has hampered this program. Photograph taken by Steven Fulton.
Since J. J. Pickle has four fifth grade classes therefore it required all four weeks of October, one class each week, to do the program. We would be hard pressed to do this without the help of volunteers. Here Bob Boydston, a long time friend and volunteer, leads the “Pond Critters” program. Photograph taken by Justin Duke.
Steven Fulton, Ranch Biologist, leads every class on a night hike. You can imagine how the hearts of these young inner city kids were palpitating as they followed Steven down the dark trails! Each child is given a small flashlight, but asked not to use it during Steven’s program. At one of our outdoor classrooms Steven, sometime with his own lips, calls in a Screech Owl who lands within twenty feet of the kids. The night hike is a thrilling experience and much talked about from one class to the next. Photograph taken by Justin Duke.
I’m the last person the kids see prior to leaving the ranch. By now, the kids are so “into” everything in nature. In addition to that shown above they have witnessed a bat emergence from our chiroptorium, looked at the heavens through our observatory, seen dinosaur tracks, collected fossils, participated in bee keeping, learned about endangered species through our scimitar-horned oryx and more. So I have the most attentive and enthusiastic fifth graders in the world! My starting question is always the same, “How many of you would like to grow up and have a job like Big Steve (at 6’ 8” he’s called that by the kids) or Queen Colleen (she sometimes wears a tiara)?” All hands go up and I then say, “You can. Ask your teacher questions, read books and do your homework as your life will be so enriched by education.” Photograph taken by Justin Duke.
It’s here in Hes’ Country Store that I invite the kids to do a conservation project that their teacher can’t do. This interests them! The project is one of conserving family history, culture. I tell a brief story about my life when I was their age. I ask them to visit grandparents and find out about the clothes their Mom wore or the toys their Dad played with. Write it down, create a journal – a history. The best letter I ever got in my life went like this:
“Dear Mr. Bamberger,
I’m 92 years old - my granddaughter never gave a hoot about me until she came back from your place – and now thank you, sir, she comes to see me once a week with a clipboard and a pencil asking me all kinds of questions.”
We could use your financial help for this program. We’ve had some success in getting grants for it, but never enough to cover the raw costs. Your contributions will be tax deductible to the extent of the law. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit private operating foundation. You can send your contribution to: Bamberger Ranch Preserve, 2341 Blue Ridge Drive, Johnson City, TX 78636.