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Following the Yearly Journey of the Ultralight-Led Whooping Cranes from Wisconsin to Florida
By Claire Timm

I teach 3rd Grade at Maclay School, a private K-12 college prep school, in Tallahassee, FL. I have my own homeroom class but teach Science to all 3 third-grade classes.

Before the fall off 2008 I doubt that I would have known exactly what a Whooping crane was, much less that it was one of our most endangered birds. And I certainly knew nothing of the amazing work of Operation Migration, the organization that conducts the ultralight-led migration of these endangered birds. But all that changed when it was decided that St. Marks, NWR would be a 2nd wintering grounds for these birds. St. Marks is only 30 miles from us in Tallahassee and it didn’t take me long to realize that since they were now going to basically be in my “very own backyard” that I really needed to see what this was all about. In no time I had found the Journey North website and was quickly able to incorporate their lessons into my Science curriculum! I am thrilled that every fall I am able to introduce a new group of 3rd graders to the magnificent Whooping crane and heroic efforts of Operation Migration to help ensure its survival!

One perk of being so close to the Whooping cranes’ winter home is being able to take a field trip down to St. Marks NWR. Their education team does an excellent program on the Whooping cranes and I make sure to sign up early for a spot on their calendar. We usually make it a full day trip and enjoy a picnic lunch somewhere on the Refuge before returning to school.

I also take full advantage of all the teacher resources offered by Journey North (See "Resources" as well as "JN for Kids."). There are so many of these useful resources that every year I find something else to share with my class that I had not run across before.

Some mornings, if we are lucky, we turn on the live video feed from the CraneCam or TrikeCam and get to watch the cranes fly!! It is a thrill for me to watch as these 3rd graders get more and more excited as their journey brings them the closer to Florida! We have also been known to break out in cheers on days they fly double-legs!

On arrival day it is exciting to see how many of my 3rd graders are actually able to convince a parent to drive them before the crack of dawn in hopes of seeing the fly-over. Usually by the time arrival day gets here I have quite a few young “Craniacs” on my hands that cannot wait to see “OUR” cranes for themselves.

I am fortunate to work at a school that allows me the flexibility with my curriculum so I can include this project…that allows me to have a substitute the day the cranes are scheduled to fly-over St. Marks so that I can be there….that allows any student an excused morning off from school if they want to meet me down there!

I find such joy each year introducing 60 new third graders to this magnificent bird and the amazing work that Operation Migration does! I might not be able to write a big check as a financial donation but what I can do is teach this next generation what it means to care about an endangered species and the work it takes to bring it back from the brink of extinction. I believe that the more children know, the more they understand and the more they understand, the more they will care, and the more they care, the better the world will be!!