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Detroit's Bunche Academy partners with wildlife refuge to foster environmental stewardship

Students from Detroit's Bunch Academy at the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge

Did you know that Metropolitan Detroit is home to the only International Wildlife Refuge in North America, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge? The Refuge and Detroit Public Schools Community District’s Ralph J. Bunche Academy have entered into a partnership to enhance conservation education and inspire a sense of wonder for natural resources in students. That makes Bunche Academy the first partnership school of the only international wildlife refuge in North America.

This partnership will continue for years to come. Each year, 4th, 5th and 6th graders will get multiple in-class visits from Refuge staff and a fieldtrip to the Refuge each fall and spring. All of the programs presented through the partnership are curriculum-based following the Next Generation Science Standards. Students have the opportunity to explore the natural world and all aspects of nature through hands-on educational activities. 

"The objective of this partnership is to help students to recognize that each and every one of them is a naturalist," says Jennie Braatz, park ranger at Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.  "We start the year off by having the students make their own nature journals that they will keep with them throughout the year. We discuss what a naturalist is and we learn about famous naturalists, both historical and modern. The point we want to drive home is that no matter what the future holds, no matter what careers the students go into as adults, they can all be naturalists."

The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is unique in that it is one of only 14 priority urban refuges in the nation charged with bringing conservation to cities and helping make nature part of everyday urban life. The Refuge stretches from southwest Detroit to the Ohio-Michigan border and as far east as Point Pelee National Park in Ontario. It focuses on conserving, protecting, and restoring habitats for 300 species of birds and 117 species of fish. In total, over 18,800 acres of land in southeast Michigan and southwest Ontario are now being cooperatively managed for conservation and outdoor recreation for nearly seven million people living in a 45-minute drive.  

We should care about this because 80 percent of all Americans and Canadians live in urban areas, and most are disconnected from the natural world. This disconnect cannot continue. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to providing the reasons and opportunities for urban residents to find, appreciate, and care for nature in their cities and beyond.  That's why inspiring a sense of outdoor wonder in students and fostering a culture of stewardship are critical. All of this is being done to help develop the next generation of conservationists in urban areas because that is now where most North Americans live.  

The visits of Bunche students to the Refuge are made possible by travel funding from the Bruce Jones Environmental Education Fund of the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance. 

John Hartig is Refuge Manager at Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
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