EDWARDS, Ill. (AP) — A pair of round, glowing eyes peered from a shaded corner of the great horned owl's perch as 60 students filed by.
The students, freshman through seniors, however, were less focused on the various birds of prey on display in Wildlife Prairie Park's aviary than the features of the enclosure: the artificial perches, the plastic water tubs and small, plain signs.
Peoria Regional High School students have been tasked with redesigning the park's bird displays, a project that started with research and presentations in the spring and will continue throughout the current school year as students work with park staff to develop and implement a master plan for the aviary.
"They used to be cold open areas of steel and wire. They didn't really send a message, didn't look like a home for these birds," director of operations Mike McKim said.
One of the main goals of the project is to make the space more closely resemble the natural habitat of the birds rather than the current utilitarian look.
Some student suggestions, such as using rope over wire cables for a more natural look and including each rehabilitated bird's biography alongside species information, will likely be features of the final project. Planning other improvements, such as how to make the plastic tubs used for drinking and bathing look more natural and perch or burrow designs that more closely resemble where the birds would live and nest in the wild, are part of the task lying ahead.
"We would like you to think of a way to cover that cement mixing tub or decorate it to make it look more natural," animal curator Adrienne Bauer told students in a brief presentation Friday.
Bauer and educational naturalist Paige Burklund are among the park staff that will lead the environmental education and horticulture classes through the redesign.
The aviary project was underway when Peoria Regional High School provided the opportunity to engage students in a hands-on project that's both beneficial to the park and challenging to classes.
"You need to have ideas ready to go. You need to have portfolios. You need to be well researched," Burklund said. "If we have a lot of artists in the room, which I'm sure we do, we want you to bring your creativity forward."
Randy Stueve, director of Peoria Regional High School, said the project was made possible by a $15,000 grant from the United Way to promote social and emotional learning standards.
Peoria Regional High School is an alternative school at the park that the Peoria County Regional Office of Education took over from Illinois Central College in 2011.
Students enroll at Peoria Regional High School because, for a variety of reasons, they couldn't make the traditional high school model work. Some struggle with anxiety or were bullied to the point they wouldn't show up for classes.
With classes held on the Wildlife Prairie Park campus, students get a second chance at education alongside a unique environmental experience.
"If they have something to be excited about, they're going to come to school, and we're going to get graduates." Stueve said. "We're finding a niche for these kids, and we're trying to really hook them and keep them coming."
Information from: Journal Star, http://pjstar.com
This is an Illinois Exchange story shared by the (Peoria) Journal Star.