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Teaching the Teachers

Posted on May 12, 2016

Throughout the past few years of working for RTPI, I’ve heard the phrase “teaching the teachers” a number of times. From my understanding, at one time this meant equipping school teachers with the proper materials and knowledge to take their classes out into nature and teach their students place-based education. RTPI education staff traveled extensively to carry out teacher workshops and engage students in learning about the natural world. As the years have gone on, the approach to carrying out that phrase has shifted, but the focus has remained: passing our knowledge and passion on to others so that they may do the same.

This past winter season, I had the opportunity to do just that as I worked with two student interns from Jamestown Community College. One of the interns, Alex Shipherd, had worked with us over the summer as a Project Wild America Youth Ambassador Crew Leader and was interested in studying winter raptors throughout the winter months. Bryce Alexander, our other intern, was new to RTPI but eager to begin surveying the area for Hemlock Woolly Adelgid and learning more about its impacts on forest health and ecology.


Alex Shipherd was involved in monitoring Northern Harrier and Short-eared Owl activity throughout the area and helped set the stage for RTPI to further develop studies surrounding these, and other winter raptor species.

Bryce-FP signs

Bryce Alexander was an excellent addition to our HWA survey team this winter. He helped monitor eight sites throughout the area and spread the word about this invasive forest pest.

With a mild winter we were able to get out into the field often and as we conducted surveys I shared with them the knowledge that had been passed on to me regarding the various species we were searching for. While I was serving as the “teacher” figure throughout their internships, it didn’t take long before they themselves starting filling that role as well.

Lake Erie

Alex and I explored a number of sites this past winter searching for winter raptors while primarily monitoring the Chautauqua-Jamestown Airport.

South Valley SF

South Valley State Forest was one of our field sites monitored this past winter for HWA.

As the end of their internships neared, an “Intern Night” event was slated for Alex and Bryce to share their new knowledge and growing passion for the natural world with the general public.


Bryce shared with the attendees the effects HWA has on a hemlock stand and how to identify it. He also reported on our survey efforts and the benefits of early detection surveys.


Alex described characteristics of the Northern Harrier and Short-eared Owl. He shared with the public the progress he made with ArcGIS and what was learned from mapping different habitat types within the area.


JCC Professors Jan Bowman and Becky Nystrom served as Academic Advisers to Alex and Bryce respectively and myself as their site supervisor. This semester working with all of them was certainly a productive one!

Alex and Bryce engaged the audience as they showcased the work put in to their respective internship projects. As I listened to them present, I couldn’t help to feel a sense of pride as these students had truly become the teachers. They both learned so much and didn’t only teach those that were in attendance that night. For Alex’s final project he created drivable cell phone tour of the Chautauqua-Jamestown Airport for anyone with a smart phone to discover the numerous bird species that inhabit the surrounding fields and forests. And for Bryce’s final project, he created a research poster and presented during JCC’s Scholar’s Day, sharing his experience with many of his peers, teachers and JCC administrators.

If you want to see Alex and Bryce’s presentations and learn more about what they were up to this winter, please click on the links below:



Also, while Alex is still adding to his cell phone tour, you can check out what it looks like so far by visiting http://www.orbitist.com and typing in map #1886.

As the summer is quickly approaching, I am looking forward to working with more wonderful students and can’t wait to watch them teach the teachers!

Elyse Henshaw
Conservation Technician