For the birds? Clarendon School gets grant to enhance habitat

About a half dozen students from Clarendon School took a trip of the Lyndhurst headquarters of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission on Nov. 24 bearing a few simple gifts, including a red-sided birdhouse and a hand-made thank you card signed by many of the other students in their school.

They had come to thank the Meadowlands Commission for a $5,000 donation that would allow them to expand a bird study program the school had started last spring.

The Clarendon School has initiated a project entitled “For the Birds,” a collaboration with Wild Birds Unlimited in Paramus, and sponsored by the Secaucus PTA and Secaucus Education Foundation.

Through the project, students will participate in the care and feeding of the birds, and maintenance of the feeding stations. As they observe feeding, students will learn which birds are native to our environment.

Clarendon School Principal Ralph Merlo said the school started the program by building a birdhouse in between buildings at the school. Clarendon School, built in 1970, is a series of pod-like buildings connected with enclosed walkways. As a result, sections of open space are often enclosed. Merlo said the idea was to use one of these spaces as a kind of outdoor classroom for wildlife.

“The grant will help cover the cost of feed and building of birdhouses, as well as installing plants that will attract certain kinds of birds,” Merlo said. “We want to use the courtyard as a kind of environmental teaching center.”

Merlo said this project was part of a plan partially created by Wild Birds Unlimited as a way to bring students closer to nature and to allow them to interact. He said some of the birds that are already unofficial residents at the school include bull finches and morning doves.

In setting up the program, school officials also visited a similar project in the Ramsey school system. Sixth graders help feed and maintain the sanctuary as part of their studies.

“We intend to continue feeding them all winter long,” said Merlo, who also attributed some of the credit for the project to Meadowlands Commissioner Michael Gonnelli.

Two of the key adults involved are Linda Wilhelm, coordinator of the school’s Gift and Talented program, and Head Custodian Michael DalPozzo.

What it meant

In a short ceremony held in the Meadowlands Commission’s main presentation room, the students from Clarendon School presented the commissioners with gifts and talked a little about what the project meant.

In a prepared speech, sixth grade student Anna Todorovska asked whether any of them wondered how birds seemed to rise so effortlessly into the wind, gently flapping their wings. Ever wonder where they go? How they survive on sunflower seeds and such scattered on the ground? The students of the bird habitat presented potpourri to Chairwoman Susan Bass Levin for the commission’s generosity at the grant. They also invited her to come visit the habitat once it was completed, an invitation Levin accepted.

Mayor Dennis Elwell, who was on hand for a series of meetings at the commission, said he was very proud of the student of Secaucus He thanked the commission for making educational opportunities like this possible.

In a later interview, Anna Todorovska said she was among the handful of students picked for the project.

“But I think it was a good idea,” she said. “We get to learn a lot about birds and their environment.”

She said that to date, she had seen a lot of pigeons as well as a cardinal.

Student Jordan Lienhart said he thought the project was a good idea and felt that the $5,000 would help them learn a lot more about birds. Wilhelm was delighted and thankful for the grant.

“This project is very worthwhile and will allow students to learn so much about nature that they never knew before,” she said. “And the students are very involved in feeding the birds and taking care of the habitat.”

Wilhelm said the grant would help provide additional plants and opportunities to attract more birds to the school and allow students to more closely study bird life.


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