by Chrissie Wilson
Recently I was asked to visit the Franklinton Girl Sprouts on behalf of the Audubon Center. One of their group leaders, Joy Sullivan, requested that I attend their evening meeting and discuss the basics of birding and bird study. Wanting to assist her search for women in the Columbus community to lead her girls in fun educational activities, of course my answer was a resounding “yes!” I loaded my backpack with Audubon Adventures, flier, patches, and other gifts and headed over to St John’s Episcopal Church where the Girl Sprouts have been given a community room to use on the top floor. Meeting every other Wednesday from 7:00-8:00 pm, the gathering is geared toward young girls in the Franklinton neighborhood. Similarly to Girl Scouts, Sprouts places more emphasis on environmental awareness and practices leading to a better world today and tomorrow. Twelve girls attended the group and all of them were engaged, energetic, and ready to learn.
Troubled with frequent flooding in the last century, Franklinton has been battling social and real estate challenges, leaving many in the area feeling forgotten. In the heart of Columbus but detached from some of our city’s vibrant attractions, families in Franklinton often experience intense insulation both socially and economically, because the reality is that poverty is expensive. The Economist cites that 1 in 3 American households who earn $15,000 do not have a bank account: they use money orders, prepaid card, or quick cash for their banking needs. Price discrimination squeezes the budget even further. Large budget items such as food, rent, and utilities, and insurance are higher in lower income neighborhoods where food deserts and demographic based insurance rates present. Between lost income and the time spent on taking public transportation, poverty can be a high wire balancing act.
The debate regarding the value of teaching nature education to the children of the working and non-working poor stems from where families and students can gain the most value. Schools lack resources and it’s no wonder they have to balance where to put their limited resources for the best results, but that’s where outdoor education and organizations like the Audubon Center and Girl Sprouts come into play. Early in elementary school, students from low-income families fall behind their peers, creating an imbalance in reading, math, and science. Without these foundation skills children are less likely to find a promising career path and help their future families thrive. Conservation Classroom is a partnership with 45 classrooms; and through the use of weaving STEAM into nature education we are working to become one part of the puzzle that can break this cycle. Outdoor education has been proven to reduce the risk of school dropout and has been shown to increase test scores in core curriculum.
It can feel narcissistic at times to walk into the woods and take time to watch a bird while I know that one of the girls from Girl Sprouts doesn’t have a pack of crayons at home to color her bird map with. But that hand wringing separates us from the gift we as birdwatchers, educators, and naturalists have to give. For the working and non-working poor, birding and other outdoor activities can seem trivial when the day to day work of poverty is looming; but it is up to us to show the value, reduce the cost, and build inclusion whenever possible. You can share your gift by volunteering your time at the Audubon Center or you can seek further information on the Franklinton Girl Sprouts or St John’s Episcopal Church’s other ministries by visiting their website for further information.