The Branch Brook School

Photo by Meghan Barry

The Branch Brook School in Newark, NJ is two blocks away from the historic Branch Brook Park, which is part of the oldest park system in the US and home to several thousand cherry trees. The Branch Brook School uses the Park to go on birdwatching hikes; for field days, soccer festivals, and Cherry Blossom Runs; and to paint and make scientific observations of nature. Early this summer, the Branch Brook School had a 4th grade bird tally and celebration at the Park, hoping to attract up to 300 participants: students, parents, and community members, including local artists (e.g. the Playwrights Theater, Newark Museum and Greater Newark Conservancy artists), musicians (e.g. Newark Symphony Orchestra), and politicians (e.g. Essex County Executive Joseph DiVicenzo and New Jersey Senator Theresa Ruiz).

photo © Meghan Barry
In the past the Branch Brook School has found their bird migration study to be one of the most important initiatives at the school, since urban communities don’t always get a chance to experience nature as much as others, and this study helped give the school community exposure to learning about birds. The 4th grade class took a bird migration hike in the fall will take another one in the spring, collaborating with the New Jersey Audubon Society (Jennifer Dowd from the Essex County Audobon Society spoke at the event) and using the Cornell Lab of Ornithology online resources to make comparisons between the two seasons.

photo © Meghan Barry
On May 29th, 4th grade students spent the majority of the day working in teams to identify as many species as they can throughout the northern end of Branch Brook Park. The students observed birds using methods from New Jersey Audubon’s World Series of Birding and the Celebrate Urban Birds framework, and received participation certificates and awards from a New Jersey Audubon Educator. The following day the whole school participated in planting stations at the Park and 4th graders taught their younger peers how to conduct ten-minute bird surveys. Two of the 4th graders also spoke to the public about their experience birdwatching.

photo © Meghan Barry
All the data collected will be entered onto the Celebrate Urban Birds website as well as utilized by the 4th grade students in their math/technology lessons following the celebration days. Students will be encouraged to make graphs and posters to share the data with the entire school.

photo © Meghan Barry
Joseph Cullen, Principal at Branch Brook School, wrote us that, “Giving urban kids a chance to shine will inspire them to do great things in the future, especially for their community. For our multiple disabled students, it gives them an outlet to experience and feel nature. When the Olmstead Firm designed Branch Brook Park in 1895 (they also designed Central Park in New York City) I think they had events like this in mind. Having our youth enjoy the park and teach the world about Newark’s native birds is an event that will be a tremendous success. Newark, New Jersey is in the news all the time, but sometimes it is for negative reasons. At Branch Brook School we would like to celebrate with our school community a project that can bring people together, to enjoy nature and learn about science through bird watching.”

Below is a slideshow with more pictures of the event, and you can read a local newspaper’s coverage here.