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South Salt Lake Journal

Historic Scott School’s Earth Day celebration soars high with raptor visit

Jun 06, 2023 11:09AM ● By Jesse M. Gonzalez

The Historic Scott School had an Earth Day celebration on April 21 to remind everyone that beyond our home, our city, our county, state and country, we all share and reside here on Earth.  

“The Historic Scott School Earth Day celebration was our after-school site’s opportunity to do community outreach to the local South Salt Lake community members,” said Liam Loveday, associate coordinator of the event. “Activities that were coupled with the Earth Day theme were planting perennial plants on the community center campus, rock painting and decorating the community garden that we plan on setting up this summer. The biggest hit at the event was definitely the HawkWatch International partners bringing a variety of live native Utah raptor birds to showcase.”  

The celebration was also supplied with arts and crafts booths from the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, wool sculptures and figurines, and refreshments such as mango lassis and orange Popsicles. 

Much of the event could not be done without Maisy Hayes, a center coordinator for Promise South Salt Lake, an out-of-school-time program at the Historic Scott School. Hayes, who lives in South Salt Lake, originally started as a part-time staff member three years ago and now leads her own classes and events such as the Earth Day celebration.  

“A big part of the reason why we wanted to do this was because we noticed that there was a high trend of negative attitude when it came to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) related fields,” Hayes said. “Kids didn’t have a positive relationship with STEM and there wasn’t a lot of growth for STEM careers, so we really wanted to find a new, engaging way for kids to take an interest in STEM while talking about Utah’s nature and environment.”

That is when HawkWatch International came aboard, a nonprofit organization set on restoring and caring for Utah’s birds of prey population. The Earth Day celebration made room for bird species such as the great horned owl, the golden eagle, hawks and the peregrine falcon.  “The kids know the names of the birds and all the things the birds like and don’t like. It’s pretty cool,” Hayes said. “I was really interested in doing this because this is an area that hasn’t quite been tapped into for a community event. My kids are really excited. I’m hoping this will happen again next year and hopefully, we can have an even bigger event next year.”

Melissa Halvorsen, the education and outreach director of HawkWatch International, was a key player is setting up the event. “Most of our staff are scientists but we also have an education team. We have been partnering with Promise South Salt Lake for the past couple of weeks to come and do outreach visits for the kids,” Halvorsen said. “We have done five visits total and each visit the goal is to bring a different bird. We have raptors that are non-releasable. Most of them have an injury or something that is wrong with them so that they can’t survive in the wild and we use them to do our outreach programs.”

For the celebration, the students got a chance to meet the different birds and to learn what makes each one unique while participating in various activities. “The kids got to bring their family members and their friends to the program and share what they learned with them. It was a really fun experience. We got to know the kids and to meet the parents and their families and see the kids become the teachers,” Halvorsen said.

“The birds that we have are birds that have went to a rehab center, so like a wildlife rehabilitator. If the vet feels that the birds were to be able to survive in the wild then they have to find a permanent home for them. We have permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and that’s really important because otherwise it’s not legal,” Halvorsen said. “What we have is these permits which allows us to use these birds specifically for education, so they’re all wild birds that were injured or unable to survive in the wild.”

“We made a request to the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks program so we can expand on not just partnering with Promise South Salt Lake, but partnering with other community organizations as well so we can do these targeted repeat visits,” Halvorsen said.  “My mission in education is to—we call it ‘closing the nature gap’—we recognize that there are some folks who, due to economic or physical limitations, can’t get out to where these wild raptors live very easily so we’re in a unique position where we can actually bring them to people.” 

“We’re trying to find groups that have the need to have this experience when they can’t necessarily have it another way. We hope to partner not only with Promise South Salt Lake but with other community organizations that serve audiences that may have economic or physical challenges,” Halvorsen said.

HawkWatch International hopes such visits inspire young people to explore science. 

“I think that to aid them with their first experience with a wild raptor, our goal is to give them some inspiration for possibilities for their future. They may not have seen themselves in the world of wildlife science or biology or ecology, but our goal is to help them see a potential future where they could be involved in science and that doesn’t necessarily mean be a scientist because they could be an educator like we are or they could be a graphic designer that does scientific illustrations but we want to give them exposure to more options and ideas,” Halvorsen said. 

“Part of the reason why we study raptors at HawkWatch is because they are what we call indicator species. When we see changes in raptor population, it tells us that we see something problematic in the ecosystem they live in, and we have a lot of raptors in Salt Lake City and the ecosystem they live in is shared with us humans and oftentimes the things that are bad for raptors are bad for humans too,” Halvorsen said. 

Finding common ground with all animals who reside in Utah, and even the rest of the world, is important.  

“With the raptors we see problems with them first before we see those problems in humans, so I think Earth Day is important because it reminds us that we are all part of the same ecosystem. Just because we’re humans and live in buildings doesn’t mean that we are disconnected from the natural world that supports us and animals,” Halvorsen said. “So it’s good to remember that we need to take care of that space because it takes care of us.” λ