Grant helps Raptor Center reach low-income students

The program also encourages adults to volunteer and become mentors to children.

Sam Boeser

Thanks to a new grant, the University’s Raptor Center researchers and volunteers are using raptors to excite more minority and low-income children about learning.

Teaming up with AmeriCorps, the new program aims to curb the growing achievement gaps in Minnesota schools.

“Raptors are inspiring,” said Lisa Koch, the education director at the Raptor Center. “Using live raptors allows us to reach kids that may not do well otherwise.”

The program uses “teacher trunks,” which are designed by teachers from Minnesota. The trunks are designed to emphasize the learning aspects of raptors through the use of props such as bones, books and beaks, as well as enhance what the live raptors bring to the classroom.

Bringing raptors to classrooms has been possible for years, but always for a fee. The new program provides the service to schools that might otherwise be unable to afford it.

“It’s very hard to have to turn people away,” Koch said. “We get calls every week from classes that can’t afford our services.”

A three-year-long $25,000 grant from the educational improvement foundation Mardag made the program possible. The Raptor Center operates primarily on private donations and earned income. It is not funded through the University.

Spearheading the program is Jennie Bell, an AmeriCorps promise fellow.

“It’s very exciting” Bell said. “It gives us a chance to reach out to kids that would not be able to see the raptors without this program.”

The program will attempt to target schools in which minority and low-income children have tested below the state averages, Bell said. It also encourages children to give back to the community.

“They learn, and they are able to give back,” she said.

Also in the program is an effort to encourage adults to volunteer and mentor young people. Koch said the mentors work to improve the effectiveness of their program.

“The point of the volunteer program is adult participation,” Koch said. “One thing we know (that) really works is parental involvement.”

The Raptor Center has approximately 150 volunteers who donated more than 32,000 hours in 2004, according to the center’s annual report.

“We have had to turn away volunteers in the past,” Koch said. “This new program allows us to let those who were turned away to volunteer here.”

The program is still in the opening phases, and Bell is continually meeting with schools and teachers to try to tune the raptor program toward their particular interests.

“The only thing is not throwing off teachers’ learning curriculums,” Bell said.