The program promotes children spending time outdoors as a safe way to socialize, exercise, support mental health, and become more familiar with the natural world.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Huan Song, Director of Communications
Yamys Urbano Valencia, Bilingual PR and Communications Specialist
(Chicago, IL – NOVEMBER 9, 2023) Openlands, an environmental organization serving the Chicago metropolitan region, is pleased to announce the start of a new school year of its Birds in My Neighborhood ® program, celebrating its ten-year anniversary this year. The volunteer-supported program, which aims to connect urban youth with nature and promote bird education and conservation, is expanding its reach to 34 schools, 20 of which are new to the program and located primarily in underserved areas. One of the selection criteria for this program is whether the school has a high percentage of students from low-income families, according to CPS data.
More than 1,300 PreK-5th grade students are expected to participate in the program. Teachers will also be trained in bird biology, habitats, and conservation during the winter season, and both teachers and volunteers will train students during the spring season. In the past, only volunteers received training and this expansion to train teachers will deepen the learning experience for students. “As the coordinator for the Birds in My Neighborhood program, I get a lot of joy from networking with others and introducing them to both birds and the experiential learning”, said Jorge García, volunteer coordinator at Openlands.
Openlands has put out a call for volunteers to help children’s interest in the natural world take flight. The applicants don’t need birding experience to be a volunteer. Volunteers will participate in training sessions to prepare them engage kids with birding through in-school lessons and field trips.
“Volunteers get the joy of working with youths while learning themselves about the birds in our region. My work as an educator over the past decade has always been multigenerational and BIMN was a natural fit to develop environmental literacy in both groups, volunteers and students,” said García.
Birds in My Neighborhood is a school-based initiative that engages students in hands-on birding activities, fostering an understanding and appreciation for local bird species and their habitats. By introducing children to the wonders of bird watching, Openlands aims to instill a sense of environmental stewardship and inspire the next generation of conservationists.
“The little ones are the most interested in birds. They love to look at and identify the birds, draw them. The teachers are excited too and it’s very nice that half of them are early childhood educators,” said Jessica Fong, director of education at Openlands.
“We are thrilled that Michael has accepted our offer to serve as the next President and CEO of Openlands. Michael’s proven leadership roles at the Trust and his experience as a deliberative, thoughtful and collaborative partner, working with public and private stakeholders, have allowed him to address the complex needs of the communities in our region,” said Carrie McNally, Chair of the Search and Transition committee of the Openlands’ Board. “Michael will be well prepared to build upon the organization’s strong legacy while recognizing that continued evolution is critical for impact.”
The latest phase of the program focuses on reaching communities that have historically had limited access to open space and garden and nature-based education. By targeting schools in underserved areas, Openlands aims to bridge this gap and provide transformative opportunities for students who may not have otherwise had the chance to connect with nature firsthand.
“We believe that every child, regardless of their background or the neighborhood they live in, deserves the opportunity to experience the joys of nature,” said Fong. “We are thrilled to partner with these 34 schools and bring the Birds in My Neighborhood program to their students.”
Each school in the Birds in My Neighborhood program receives hands-on training for educators, classroom materials, binoculars, and curricular resources. Students have the opportunity to learn about local bird species, their habitats, and migration patterns through engaging lessons and field trips to nearby green spaces. By immersing themselves in these experiences, students gain a deeper appreciation for the natural world and develop a sense of responsibility for its preservation.
“Chicago is part of a vital bird corridor for migration. The Mississippi Flyway runs right through this area and is an important region for birds to rest and recover as travel through to their overwintering locations in the south,” said Fong.
Openlands would like to acknowledge the dedication and commitment of the participating schools, teachers, and students. Their enthusiasm and willingness to embrace this program have been instrumental in its success.
Since the start of this program a decade ago, over 13,500 students have participated in this program and connected with nature close to home.
The Birds in My Neighborhood program was recognized as a key US Forest Service partner in the conservation of migratory birds when it was awarded the 2018 Wings Across the Americas – Urban Communities in Conservation Award. Additionally, in 2022 the Chicago Audobon Society selected Birds in My Neighborhood to receive the Craig Stettner Award for Environmental Education.
To learn more about the Birds in My Neighborhood program or to support Openlands’ conservation efforts, please visit the program page.
Founded in 1963, Openlands protects the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region to ensure cleaner air and water, protect natural habitats and wildlife, and help balance and enrich our lives. Openlands works across area to advance nature-based solutions to climate change, improve the health and well-being of communities, and create a more verdant region for all.