Jeffrey Baker, a science teacher for the Muskingum Valley Educational Service Center’s ALPHA School Program, said the project began about six years ago after he attended an Ohio Department of Natural Resources seminar on the chimney swift — an endangered species due to habitat loss.
“The chimney swift originally nested in hollow trees,” Baker said. “When the forests were largely removed in the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution afforded the swifts with an alternative nesting site in chimneys. However, in recent years those are being removed and fewer people build chimneys on houses, or cap them if they do.”
Since 100 swifts can live in one chimney but only make one nest of three to five eggs, the species is in trouble, Baker explained. “The proposed solution is to build these chimney swift towers on land where it is possible.”
For the project, Baker referenced “Chimney Swift Towers” by Paul and Georgeann Kyle, which contained materials and detailed information for building the tower available on Amazon. The Audubon Society also awarded Baker a $1,500 grant for the project.
“However, I was never able to find someone to help build the tower despite promises made,” Baker said. “When Dan Vorisek started coming to ALPHA for other student projects, we discussed building the tower and he offered to help build the three sections needed.”
By then, Baker had also received a Ohio Environmental Education Fund grant for $2,500.
“We ordered supplies and began construction,” Baker said. “Students helped and overall we had about 20-25 students who did most of the work.”
The project took several days, five in total, Rural Action Environmental Education Director Dan Vorisek said. He and Baker have long worked together to educate students about natural science and the environment.
The ALPHA program at Muskingum Valley ESC is a well-established juvenile probate program, for “students who have been removed from their home school and on probation who come to us.” Baker said that as an ALPHA science teacher, his projects are hands-on and inquiry driven, “because that is how these students learn best.”
“STEM is the key to how I teach science here,” Baker said. “Most of these students get little, if any, support at home and are credit-deficient. These projects not only help them learn about chimney swift and habitat, but also give them a sense of accomplishment they are not used to getting in their prior school experience.”
The students explored a variety of skills through the project, Vorisek explained.
“The students learned how to use carpentry tools, how to work together, how to fix mistakes, how to contribute positively to a common goal, and what the chimney swift needs for nesting,” Vorisek said.
Vorisek noted the uniqueness of the ALPHA School and its hands-on, team-building projects.
“The ALPHA School and the learning opportunities that the students have are fairly uncommon in rural schools,” Vorisek said. “While these students are ‘at-risk’ of being expelled from their home school, Jeffery is able to tap into an innate interest and ability that most youth anywhere possess, but do not have the opportunity to put into practice in their home schools. It is a great example of how experiential learning can successfully reach students in many different settings.”
The boxes will be dedicated soon with a ceremony, Baker added.