Cranes and Kids – Environmental Education at Work

A primary objective of mine while in Weining has been supporting a progressive local primary school in its effort to implement an environmental education curriculum which was developed by the International Crane Foundation specifically for the Caohai region. A few weeks ago, we were honored to be part of a ceremony recognizing the school’s partnership with ICF.  After the ceremony, we organized a demonstration of the curriculum in practice.

The environmental curriculum teaching team.

The teaching team discussing curriculum and lesson plans.

Working with our translator Cinderella.

The day started with a plaque presentation designating the Weining #4 Primary School as a US-China Environmental Education Project School. Naively, I thought it would be a rather low-key event. When the entire student body started lining up in front of a stage in the school’s central courtyard, I realized we were in for a more elaborate affair.

When the lowai visit the school, things get a little nutty. So the teachers sequestered us in principal's office.

The ceremony started with the presentation of a traditional Communist red neck scarves to participating teachers, the nature reserve staff and us.

Our names translated into Chinese and pronounced "Shee Shee" and "Mah Kuh".

Next there were speeches. Unlike the last speech I had to make (a post on that coming soon), I was prepared this time and even had a Chinese translation that our translator, Cinderella, read to the students.

With the black necked crane student dancers.

Afterwards, two adorable young girls, dressed as black-neck cranes, in white dresses and black tights and lipstick, handed the plaque to me, which I then presented to the school principal.

To end the ceremony, we all signed a banner which pledged to protect Caohai lake and the black neck crane.

After the ceremony, two classes participated in demonstrating a pair of lessons from the ICF curriculum. The first class demonstrated knowledge about the cranes, their habitat and tendencies. A group of a dozen girls performed a dance that mimicked crane posturing and behavior.

Next the students sang a song about the cranes, titled, “My dear black-neck crane.” It was truly inspiring.

Students checking out the new environmental ed curriculum.

Finally, the students played a game that taught the concept of overfishing. Each team circled around a basket of candy that represented the fish in Caohai Lake.

At the signal, they were allowed to take whatever ‘fish’ they wanted from the basket. In one group a feeding frenzy ensued and they grabbed every last treat. The other two groups were more restrained, with each student taking one or two each leaving at least a few ‘fish’ remaining in the basket.

The students then learned that the groups which left some “fish” behind to reproduce for next year were rewarded with a growing population, while the group that decimated their candy supply had nothing left for the future.

What was most striking to us as outsiders, was that after the concept of overfishing was explained to the students, all the candy was distributed to the two groups that had candy left in the basket. The group that had “over-fished” was left watching their classmates rip open and devour the additional candy.  Students learned the hard way. I’ll never forget the dejected look on the face of one of the boys who ended up with no candy.  I’m hopeful that his frustration will ensure he remembers the lesson.

8 responses to “Cranes and Kids – Environmental Education at Work

  1. So impressed about your experiences! I am really interested in the parts of your interactions with those schools kids, especially those girls who received the OHO programs. Did more girls accomplish their education?

  2. Hi, I so enjoyed reading about your visit to Cao Hai and Weining! Especially seeing how you taught overfishing and caring for the cranes. I travelled to Cao Hai in 2000 to research my YA novel called Circle of Cranes. The story is about a young Miao minority girl from Cao Hai who is smuggled to NY city to work in a sweatshop. She is a member of the Crane Women Clan. The magic realism novel will be published in April 2012 by Dial/Penguin Group, U.S. I would love to send you a galley copy of the book as you two are among the few North Americans who have been to Cao Hai and have seen the extreme poverty there. Let me know if you’re interested. I, too, am an environmentalist, which is why I love cranes. They are a flagship species for our fragile planet. Cheers, Annette LeBox, Maple Ridge, British Columbia

  3. That is so wonderful. The children look so cute–like little cranes. Mark looks quite cute also…i may need a copy of that picture of him. I recieved a lovely birthday postcard last week….made my week. thank you. I miss you both.

  4. holy crap. so awesome. I miss you!
    tory

  5. Dear Cece and Mark. I love getting the updates and wonder how the trip to Burma is going. I have shared your stories with a Chinese friend of mine and she loved reading about your views of her country. She grew up in the place where the pandas are and got her doctorate and is now teaching at A&M. She is fluent in English but still does not get all the little references. we are working on her. Hope you have a wonderful time. Talked to Robbie today and Cathy last week. Miss you all. I’ll share this with GM and show her the pictures. Send rain to us. Love Auntie Anne

  6. Hi CeCe and Mark,
    I so much appreciate your periodic blogs from Weining (and beyond) and the deep connections you are making with the communities there. What a special opportunity to share our cultures and support environmental preservation. If it’s OK with you two. I was going to share this most recent blog with Gail Ladd who teaches in the Brooksville Elementary School. She would be interested and perhaps it might impact their approach to environmental education at that level.
    Today I walked from Herrick’s to the Pond House on the old jeep road. It’s a gorgeous fall day, colors turning, and a strong SW breeze with impressive white caps on the Bay.

  7. Wow, what a great celebration! I love the crane costumes…gets me thinking for halloween😉
    So amazing that you two get to participate so deeply in this community.

  8. I am impressed with the effort put forth by the school administration and teachers to make this ceremony meaningful to the students. Well done in encouraging their efforts in establishing this environmental program. The kids must have been impacted with how much damage they can do to their environment, as well as how correct choices can have a large positive impact in preserving their world for the future. You must feel very satisfied with how well things went. I don’t think I have seen such response in our US schools to educate students like this which makes me sad. Well done.❤

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