Published on December 16, 2021

Working to Connect All Cape Kids with Nature

Hyannis West 750x500

Although they’re surrounded by shoreline, not all Cape Cod kids experience beachcombing or roaming the tidal flats. Many children who live in what constitutes the Cape’s urban center, mostly within the town of Barnstable, have a more limited view of the natural world.

“Nature is what they see out the window or in their backyards,” says Mass Audubon Cape Cod educator Jessica Sheppard. “They see birds and squirrels-- that’s nature to them.”

The backyard may be a good start, but Jessica works to broaden the kids’ view of the Cape’s special environment and to build a foundation in science. Once a week she leads an after-school program at Hyannis West Elementary. The program is an example of Mass Audubon’s commitment to expand the reach of its educational programming to low-income families and communities of color, part of the new Action Agenda.

A Flexible Approach

Jessica says because of the students’ long and highly structured school day she’s learned to be flexible and to modify her teaching plans, if necessary. On a day she’d prepared a program about bats, the kids wanted to talk about stars and constellations instead. Or sometimes, the students want to talk about something that happened at home. “They just want a chance to connect and share,” Jessica notes. “ I don’t want to stifle that.”

More complex topics such as climate change begin with building environmental awareness, including what it means to “be green” and reducing one’s impact on the planet.

Providing Opportunities

Despite the unpredictable nature of leading an after-school program, Jessica says she loves offering the kids new experiences, like touching a bird’s feather for the first time. “They may not seek out information about Blue Jays on YouTube or TikTok, “ Jessica notes. “ But when I come in, they want to learn. They have the interest. They just don’t have the opportunity.”

The after-school program, like all of the school programming provided by Long Pasture and Wellfleet Bay, is supported by Mass Audubon Cape Cod’s generous institutional and individual donors.