Two Vignettes

Written by Ken Leinbach
    Thursday, 24 January 2013
Two Vignettes

Vignette # 1

“Urban Ecology Center, this is Dan” came a voice over the radio on Beth’s desk.

“Dan, this is Beth. Ken and I are meeting right now, how can I help you?"

“Sorry to bother you, but I’m in the bus awaiting the kids from Golda Meir. I’m teaching about the water cycle and I can’t remember exactly how many pennies I need for the third grade Water, Water Everywhere bus ride activity? Can you look it up for me?” 

“No worries, hold on a second.” Sitting at her computer, Beth immediately got on our server, looked in the school program folder and quickly found the activity.

This "From the Archive" post was orginally published in the March/April 2009 edition of our newsletter. Please enjoy this glance back at our past.

“Dan, here it is. First you need a dollar in change. Tell them that if the world was a dollar, three quarters represents what is covered by water. Then ask how much fresh water is in the dollar. Pull out three pennies. Then ask how much is usable fresh water. Let them know that it is less than one penny!”

“Got it. Thanks, and just in time too because here come the kids with Eric.”

The whole incident took all of three minutes but it put a big smile on my face.

“Wow, Beth, do you realize just how far we have come? Does this place rock or what? We’re humming like a well-oiled machine!” I said with pride. “Think about it. Remember all the research that went into acquiring the right radio system and how when we moved to the new building we were able to expand our range so we could reach every school we served. And think of the time it took to figure out the shared drive on the computer and the work that went into creating the file system so that every staff member has instant access to the curriculum. Every program now has a name, a file of possible activities, a bus ride activity, pre and post class materials to share with the school. It’s amazing!”

Vignette # 2

I was looking out the window of the camouflage room with my Wednesday morning tour group. It was a clear, crisp winter day outside and from this high vantage I was showing the natural area of Riverside Park, the climbing wall on the tower and the community gardens. Way below us aside the bicycle path, a group of middle school students were being instructed on the way to put on snowshoes.

“Ken, what’s that?” one of the visitors asked pointing out the window.

“Cool, it’s a Cooper’s hawk! Good eyes! It doesn’t look like the teacher has spotted it yet. Hold on a second; I have an idea.”
I quickly dialed the Center’s number on my cell phone.

“Maria? This is Ken” (Maria, answering at the front desk, [was] our Wednesday morning volunteer receptionist). “Can you radio the group on the bike path and tell the teacher to look up?”

Laughing, she did as instructed. In less than 20 seconds from when we first noticed the hawk, we could see Dan (who happened to be teaching again) grab the radio from his belt, listen, look up and excitedly start pointing. Soon all eyes were on the exquisite accipiter perched a mere 30 feet above their heads, eyeing them all with great curiosity. They watched for a good two minutes before the hawk swooped down and up again, off into the forest.

Cell phone, trained volunteer at the ready, radio, well prepared staff and poof -- a spontaneous teachable moment. I love this place!
If you ever wonder what it means when we ask for operational support at the Urban Ecology Center, this is what it means—building the infrastructure needed to facilitate amazing experiences for kids, families, youth and adults. Any contribution, above and beyond your basic membership, is what keeps this Center vibrant and relevant.

You may not know, but your membership fee barely covers the cost of itself. We keep the fee low (significantly lower than many membership organizations) so all in our community have the opportunity to participate. We then have faith that those who have more will contribute to our annual campaign. Without your extra gift each year, we would not have the radios, the trained volunteer at the front desk, the computer systems which provide efficiency, the equipment needed to run programs or the bus to pick up the kids. In the end it is your gift that brings students out to see a Cooper’s hawk and learn the value of water. We’re “humming like a well oiled machine”, thanks to you!

P.S. If you have not given to the annual campaign yet this year, please, please do so now. We still really need your support this year. It’s as easy as clicking [here].

Ken Leinbach

Ken Leinbach

Ken Leinbach is a nationally recognized science educator and leader in community-based environmental education. From a trailer in a high-crime city park, Ken has had fun facilitating the grassroots effort to create and grow the Urban Ecology Center which is the topic of his first book.

Striving to live with as little environmental impact as possible, Ken lives in the community in which he works and, not owning a car, commutes by bike, unicycle, roller blades, and occasionally even by kayak on the Milwaukee River.



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