On a warm Saturday morning in mid-July, a crowd gathered on the lawn outside of Fort Hays State University’s Kansas Wetlands Education Center to listen to author Mandy Kern read from her newly published children’s book, Ava: A Year of Adventure in the Life of an American Avocet.
A former science teacher and current FHSU Program Specialist at KWEC, Kern wrote Ava to help teach children, parents, and anyone who reads it about the Kansas Wetlands. Kern began working at KWEC in 2018. She has since received both recognition and awards for her work in environmental education. While speaking to the gathered crowd, Kern discussed the Kansas Wetlands’ ecological importance and the need to expand people’s understanding of this natural wonder. When asked about the event, Kern said, “I want to thank the Dorothy M. Morrison Foundation for making this book project possible. I hope that it will spark an interest in Cheyenne Bottoms and shorebirds in the students that live in our area and help make them aware of the importance of our wetland ecosystem. The book is truly a work of art thanks to the talents of Onalee Nicklin; young and old will appreciate the accurate drawings of the 33 birds depicted in the story.”
As the families sat and listened to the story of Ava the Avocet, children were able to follow along with their own book thanks to a donation from the Dorothy M. Morrison Foundation, which allowed each family to receive a free copy. Copies are also being provided to all schools and public libraries within a 70 mile radius of the center and each K-6 classroom in Barton County.
After the reading, everyone was invited into the center to explore the many displays, speak with the staff, and engage in interactive activities to learn more about the wetlands. Led by illustrator Onalee Nicklin, children learned how to draw their own Avocet, like Ava. In addition, the many interactive stations encouraged people to physically engage with some of the ideas they read about in the book. Positioned throughout the center and outside, the interactive stations proved to be enjoyable learning experiences for both young and old alike.
Children had the opportunity to build bird nests, take a chance at surviving the dangers of migration, attempt to gather food as a bird might, and many other activities. One of the most popular activities was the display of potential food sources for the various bird species. Damselfly and dragonfly nymphs, dobsonfly larva, and crawdads were just some of the living food sources with which the children interacted.
KWEC Center Director Curtis Wolf also participated in the activities, helping children explore the stations while sharing his expertise with visitors. He was pleased with the large turnout and glad to be able to host events once again. KWEC reopened fully on June 1st as part of FHSU’s Phaseout Plan. Events like this one and other FHSU activities provide necessary and enjoyable resources for community members excited for a return to normal.
Anyone interested in purchasing a copy, or incorporating Ava into their childrens’ or students’ education can find lesson plans developed for this purpose at the wetlands center website, http://wetlandscenter.fhsu.
Kansas Wetlands Education Center, affiliated with FHSU’s Werth College of Science, Technology and Mathematics, is located 10 miles northeast of Great Bend at the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area.