This story was corrected on Jan. 17, 2013. An explanation follows the story.
It’s the National Park Trust’s version of Where’s Waldo, except this environmental initiative uses Buddy Bison, a small stuffed animal, to teach kids about our nation’s parks.
“Buddy Bison is a tangible reminder for kids to unplug and get outside,” Grace Lee, executive director of the National Park Trust, said. “It also reminds them to be good stewards of the parks.”
That’s exactly what student at Bullis School in Potomac did when they created dioramas of national parks with Buddy Bison front and center. The Bullis students’ dioramas are on display at the North Face store in Georgetown through the beginning of February.
These students are learning environmental stewardship from one of the best in the country. Carolyn Cohen, a third-grade teacher at Bullis, was the first recipient, in 2010, of “The Buddy” National Teacher Award for Outstanding Environmental Stewardship.
The National Park Trust gives the award to recognize “an educator whose innovative use of the Buddy Bison program has made a significant impact in his or her students’ understanding of the natural world and the importance of protecting our nation’s treasured parks,” according to the Trust’s website.
This week, it’s Cohen’s third-grade students that are in the spotlight, sharing their work highlighting national parks and Buddy Bison with the dioramas they created in science and art classes.
“It’s an opportunity for the kids to share something with a bigger audience,” Cohen said. “Using this platform to inform others about the National Parks and the Buddy Bison program is powerful.”
Each of the 17 third-graders at Bullis selected a national park to research as a science project on the environment. With the help of art teacher Lily Gillett, they created a diorama highlighting special features of the park.
Julia Evans, 8, of Potomac, selected the Clara Barton National Historic Site in nearby Glen Echo.
“My mom is a history teacher, so I thought (an historic site) would be fun,” Julia said.
She drew Clara Barton’s house for her background, added flowers for color and put a clay replica of Buddy Bison in the front looking at the house.
“I learned that [the house] was a part of history, and it would be a great thing to see,” she said.
Her classmates, Callie Sattin, 8, of Gaithersburg, and Lily Bernstein, 9, of Dunn Loring, Va., went farther afield in selecting their parks. Callie chose the Everglades National Park in Florida and Lily researched Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
Callie said one thing she learned about the Everglades is that there are lots of wildlife, trees and vegetation in the park. She created sculptures of Buddy, a large alligator and a tree, which she placed in front of a blue and green background with more trees, for her diorama.
Keeping up the theme of wildlife and natural habitat, Lily’s diorama included three snakes and Buddy against a background of high mountains. She even added a rainbow.
Lily is the only one of the three students who has visited the national park she selected, but Julia said she will get her chance.
“My grandmother takes us to a park when we turn 12,” Julia said. “We get to pick it.”
She said she will be thinking of where she wants to go for the next few years. Her brother got to visit the Grand Canyon for his special trip with his grandmother.
“This project was an interrelated way to get children familiar with our National Parks, what they have to offer and why they need to protect them. But the larger picture was based on these guiding questions: How do we impact our environment, and what is our responsibility to it?” Cohen said of the project.
In addition to the dioramas, the third-graders went to Locust Grove Nature Center in Bethesda this past fall to clean up the stream there, something they have scheduled to do again in the spring.
“They loved it,” Cohen said. “Wading in the water and picking up trash!”
An earlier version of the caption that accompanied this story misnamed the organization. It is the National Parks Trust’s Buddy Bison program.