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Interactive, hands-on woodworking project sparks students’ curiosity in Minnesota birds  

Interactive, hands-on woodworking project sparks students’ curiosity in Minnesota birds  

Thanks to an anonymous donor, fourth-grade students at William Byrne Elementary had a unique opportunity to learn all about Minnesota birds.

Elpis interns help students with their bird feeders at William Byrne

This past summer, fourth-grade teacher Nicole Happe received an email from Karl Erickson, woodworking program manager at Elpis Enterprises. Elpis is a Saint Paul-based nonprofit organization that provides job training, work experience and employment assistance for young people between the ages 16 and 23 who are experiencing homelessness.

Karl mentioned to Happe that she could sign up for a bird feeder workshop as part of his “Land of 10,000 Diverse 4th-Grade Birdwatchers Project.” Happe signed up Byrne’s three fourth-grade classrooms to be sponsored for this opportunity. She soon learned that William Byrne had been selected. An anonymous donor, whose father had recently passed away, decided to honor him by using part of his trust to gift these fourth graders with this experience.  

In mid-December, Elpis visited Bryne. Through a classroom lesson, each student learned about the importance of birds in the food chain (pest control, pollination, fertilization and seed dispersal) as well as how to identify backyard birds by appearance and sound.

After the bird lesson, students learned basic tool use and woodworking to construct a bird feeder, made with recycled fence wood. Students also received a starter bag of seed to take home with the bird feeder so that they could start birdwatching.

Teacher Nicole Happe helps students with their bird feeder projects

“The coolest things I learned, besides watching my students have a hands-on learning experience which tied in perfectly with the partnership we have with the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, was the story behind Elpis and the work they do,” said Happe. “This non-profit takes 16+ year olds who are at risk, in shelters, etc., and gives them a paid internship to learn a variety of technical skills. The interns working with our students were giving back as part of the program. Could your heart burst?”

“Also, my students couldn't believe they actually got to use a hammer!”

By operating social enterprises, Elpis provides young people with opportunities to gain paid work experiences, while gaining the skills, knowledge, and confidence necessary to secure job placement with advancement potential and end the cycle of homelessness. To learn more about Elpis, visit