Fourth graders from Clark School in Agawam recently took an educational field trip to Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary for a hands-on experience about a flying mammal that can be creepy, scary and spooky, but is an important species in many ways.

The 60 students traveled about 45 minutes to the wildlife sanctuary in Wales, Massachusetts, to learn about bats. Students participated in the sanctuary’s Bat House Building Education Program. They not only learned about the different kinds of bats, but also what they look like and what they eat.

Clark lead teacher Amanda Foley said the field trip tied in the school’s science unit.

At the Agawam School Committee’s March 12 meeting, students from Clark School made a presentation about their recent field trip to learn about bats. In the front row, from left, are students Connor Woodrum, Ayse Arslan and Nancy D’Ambrosio, holding the bat house she built. Behind them are teachers Arthur Robichau and Celeste Basile, with Principal Mitchell Taylor at far right.
Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

“Students learned about the impact that bats have on our ecosystem. They also were able to build a bat house that they could take home and share with their families,” Foley said.

Teacher Celeste Basile said the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary gives schools like Clark many free opportunities for students to learn about animals and birds.

“Having something for students that is completely free of charge is hard find these days,” she said.

Basile said that in addition to the bat house building program, Norcross also lets classes of students walk around the sanctuary, which primarily focuses on injured wildlife and preserving wildlife.

At the School Committee’s March 12 meeting, Balise, along with students Ayse Arslan, Nancy D’Ambrosio, Connor Woodum, teacher Arthur Robichau and Principal Mitchell Taylor, made a brief presentation. Students talked about some of the things they learned about bats and the sanctuary during their visit, which was followed by a video showing students working on their wooden bat houses.

Nancy even brought the bat house she built to show committee members She told them that bat’s play a central role in pest control as well as pollinating plants and dispersing seeds.

“Recent studies estimate that bats eat enough pests to save more than $1 billion per year in crop damage and pesticide costs in the United States. There are 1,400 species of bats worldwide and they are found on every continent except Antarctica,” she said.

She plans to hang the bat house in her family’s backyard as a way of controlling mosquitoes during the summer.

“I had fun working with my teachers to learn how to build the bat house. I’d like to do it again,” she said, adding that as part of the visit her class watched a video about bats and got to look at skeletons of bats.

“The sanctuary has more than 400 acres and is dedicated to wildlife conservation. It also provides a variety of educational programs for students across the state. It’s a really cool place,” said Connor.

“Focusing on bats and building bat houses is important for several reasons,” said Ayse. “While other animals and birds also play important roles in ecosystems, bats and bat houses can have significant benefits for the environment.”

Students spent about three hours at the sanctuary. Since the program could only handle a maximum of 50 students, half of the fourth graders visited one day, and the other half went the following day. This is the eighth year that the school has brought students to Norcross. 

The Norcross Wildlife Foundation that runs the sanctuary is a nonprofit, private-operating foundation. It was created in 1964 by Arthur D. Norcross whose mission was to protect wildlife at the sanctuary he created in Wales to support wildlife conservation efforts and education in general.

The foundation emphasizes that the sanctuary is not a wildlife rescue or rehabilitation facility. It focuses on the importance of protecting, enhancing and building natural habitats that support the diversity of wildlife in all its forms in this specific region.

The sanctuary’s work is funded through an endowment established by Norcross and overseen by the foundation’s board of directors.

There are several youth and education programs offered throughout the year. In addition to bat building, other programs include a fall nature walk, an ecosystem project, birds in winter, animal tracks and signs and a wildlife garden and spring nature walk. For more information, visit norcrosswildlife.org.

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