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Local nature group partners with YMCA

  • David Small of the Athol Bird and Nature club brought in specimens of birds from the Millers River Environmental Center to teach local students about nature in the North Quabbin. Contributed



Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

ATHOL — The Athol Bird and Nature Club has teamed up with the Y-ACES, a program of the Athol Area YMCA operated in partnership with the Athol-Royalston Regional School District, to bring a five-week nature program to the Athol Community Elementary School.

David Small, president of the Athol Bird and Nature Club, said along with other club members, he’s been teaching various nature related topics to younger kids. From learning about trees to examining leaves with magnifying glasses, the program offers a wide variety of subjects.

“It is something different each week so it keeps them engaged,” said YMCA Childcare and Family Services Director Megan Shaughnessy.

Shaughnessy said the YMCA aims to partner with local organizations in the area to educate its youth. 

Jeanette Robichaud, executive director of the Athol Area YMCA, said the nature program is made possible due to a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant allocated by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which helps fund the after-school program.

To kick off the program, Small took the youngsters outside with butterfly nets and allowed them to collect various insects, spiders and more. Each boy and girl was given a small container to pop the bugs into in order to take a closer peak.

“We brought them back to a picnic table and using Tom Murray’s guide to the insects of New England, we were able to show the diversity of things that were right in their own backyard there at the school,” said Small.

Shaughnessy also emphasized the importance of focusing on what the community has to offer when teaching the children about nature.

“Especially where we live there is so much right outside that is important to learn about… they get to learn about not only nature, but the nature in their own community,” she said.

The program also has utilized the resources available from the Millers River Environmental Center, such as specimens of different birds and trees, for the lessons. During the lesson on birds, Small said the group also used technology available on their phones to listen to bird calls and to discuss bird vocalization.

“That was kind of fun... again, it was using the resources of the center and then using the technology that is available today to bring it together,” he said.

Next, the kids got crafty to learn about various pollinators, by building bees out of yellow, black and white pipe cleaners. Small said they discussed plants, the function of bees and other types of pollinators. 

“The kids are really smart. They did a wonderful job on all of these different things and asked good questions. They are energetic and are really curious,” he said.

The Athol Bird and Nature Club, said Small, was started by a local group of eighth grade science teachers and still focuses on teaching younger kids about nature – from insects to birds and more.

“One of the things about the club is that we look at everything. We look at plants and birds and astronomy and geology, all of these different fields. So anyone who is interested in any form of nature can find people to commiserate with on those topics,” he said. 

The club has a range of members as well, he said, which during programs like this one, allows them to bring multiple points of view to the forefront. 

“When you put these people together, it is a pretty solid team of naturalists that have a good educational background and are diverse in their knowledge,” said Small.

In the future Small said he hopes to continue bringing similar programs to students in the North Quabbin area.

“We really look forward to doing more things of this nature. We are excited about the fact that all the schools are in close proximity. We are looking forward to working with various teachers and the Athol YMCA moving forward,” he said.


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