For the birds Kennedy School students honored by NJ Audubon Society

Not only is veteran Kennedy School teacher Patricia Mazzone an avid bird watcher and an environmental advocate, but she always makes sure that all of the gifted students in the school’s PEAK (Providing Enrichment in Accelerated Knowledge) program become more conscious of the environment as well.

So every year, Mazzone takes her students on a series of field trips so they can participate in the New Jersey Audubon Society’s “Bridges to the Natural World: Habitat Passport Program.”

In the program, the students are required to visit 10 habitats throughout the state of New Jersey and document everything in a journal.

“We took 10 different field trips with the students to what I call ‘the outdoor classroom,’ ” said Mazzone, who was just recently honored by the New Jersey Audubon Society with a lifetime achievement award. “A naturalist greets us wherever we go, and we walk through the woods, spending the time in each habitat, writing down facts and spending quiet moments.”

Mazzone said that an important part of the program is the journal-keeping.

“The students are able to express their feelings in the journals,” Mazzone said. “They also learn about each habitat and place what species live there.”

Astounding findings

Some of the students’ findings were astounding.

For example, they visited the Hemlock Forest, located in the Green Brook Sanctuary in Alpine. While there, the students realized that the Hemlock Forest was dead, killed by the woolly adelgids, a sap-sucking insect that originated in Japan but was spotted in North America as early as 1985 and has been devastating trees up and down the East Coast.

Adelgids are small, soft-bodied insects that are closely related to aphids. They have piercing-sucking mouth parts, which are inserted to remove plant sap for food. The adelgids feed primarily on young branches, causing cessation of tree growth, discoloration of needles, the dieback of branches and possible death of the tree in as little as one year.

“They learned about how invasive species can kill off a habitat,” Mazzone said. “For example, the red squirrel lives in the forest, but if the trees are dead, then they either have to move out or die.”

Jessica Espinosa enjoyed the field trips and the fact-finding.

“It was a lot of fun learning about the different trees and animals,” Espinosa said. “Writing everything down was a little hard, because some of the things I saw were hard to describe. But I like writing, and this was different for me. I also liked seeing the animals being free. I didn’t think something like that could happen for me. We don’t get many chances like that.”
Espinosa and her classmates were honored by the New Jersey Audubon Society for their dedication to the project. On Friday, the PEAK students were presented with the Junior Naturalist Award.

Three of the PEAK students, namely Richard Ortiz, Heba Samha and Francheska Munoz, were presented with the Gold Seal of Excellence for their participation in the program.

In turn, the school was given the Natural Science award for the school’s ongoing efforts to teach children about the importance of the environment and its causes.

“For the entire school, it’s a big honor,” said Kennedy School Principal Robert Dandorph. “Any time our students get recognized, it’s a feather in our cap. They’re the ones who took the time to do the work, and from that, the whole school benefits. It’s really a thrill for all of us. It shows that our students are out there and caring about the environment. I actually get goosebumps when I think about it. I’m really proud of these kids.”

Mazzone was really impressed with the children’s commitment to the program. They made posters of what they experienced and wrote poetry to accompany the posters.

“I’m extremely proud of them,” said Mazzone, who has 22 students who participated in the program. “I loved their enthusiasm. It was so great.”

Special moments

Mazzone said that the students were able to enjoy some great moments during the reflective breaks.

“We saw a bald eagle fly right over the Hudson River,” Mazzone said. “Soon after that, we saw an osprey swoop down, hit the water, take a fish and go on. That was a wonderful feeling for us. When they were done, I was so impressed with their journals. They really expressed themselves well.”

Many of the children’s ideas and thoughts are featured on the New Jersey Audubon Society’s website,

“I didn’t think any of this could ever happen to me,” said Espinosa. “It’s pretty exciting. I learned that everything in this world is connected – plants, trees, animals. They all have to live off each other.”

Fellow sixth grader John Kennedy, who attends a fitting school appropriately named after him, was impressed with the variety of things he witnessed.

“We got to see things we don’t normally get to see in North Bergen,” Kennedy said. “It was kind of hard, writing down everything that I thought and saw. I saw animals and trees I never saw before. I saw live turkeys and chipmunks and all kinds of birds. It was a good experience.”
It was especially good for young John, because science is his favorite subject.

Eleven-year-old Rebecca Egizi loved seeing the bald eagle.

“You don’t get a chance to see that every day,” Egizi said. “The best part was that I came home and told everyone what I saw. That’s how excited I was. I really loved learning about the different trees.”

Mazzone said that the New Jersey Audubon Society’s program enables students to learn that there is so much about the environment available to learn.

“They can learn that there is room for shopping malls and recreation areas and not impact on the environment,” Mazzone said.


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