PAWTUCKET, RI – Third graders from Elizabeth Baldwin Elementary School have learned about owls in the classroom.  Today they got an up close and personal view of a feathered friend native to Rhode Island, Serena, a four-year-old Barred Owl, who was rescued after she was hit by a car in Westerly and now serves as an ‘avian ambassador.’


Barred owls like Serena are indigenous to the area, but are very elusive in the wild.  Thanks to the Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s ‘Owls of Rhode Island’ program, the students got to interact with Serena and her handlers -- Lauren and Tracey, who are expert educators -- to see firsthand what makes owls and raptors special.  In addition to owls, Rhode Island is home to many other kids of raptors, such as hawks, eagles, and osprey. 


U.S. Senator Jack Reed wants more students flocking to nature and learning about science, conservation, local wildlife, and the natural world around them. Senator Reed included a $100,000 federal earmark in the fiscal year 2022 appropriations law to help Audubon provide hands-on learning experiences in the field and classroom to 4,000 Rhode Island students in kindergarten through high school.  Audubon’s educational initiative focuses on kids in urban schools, including Providence, Central Falls, Woonsocket, and Pawtucket.


Today, Senator Reed visited the Pawtucket School Annex with Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s Audubon Society of Rhode Island to meet with students and their teachers and sample some of the innovative programs that Audubon offers local elementary school students.  Reed was joined on the tour by Audubon’s Executive Director Lawrence Taft; Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien; Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools Dr. Cheryl McWilliams; and Principal of the Elizabeth Baldwin Elementary School Robin Sweezy.


“It’s fun to see kids get excited about learning and animal encounters.  When kids get a chance to learn about owls up close, they make a connection and want to help protect these magnificent creatures and their habitat.  So this program helps inspire the next generation of conservationists who will care for the world around them.  And I commend Audubon for ensuring every child has a chance to go on field trips or bring these special educational encounters into schools,” said Senator Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee.


Senator Reed is the author of the No Child Left Inside Act to help states provide effective environmental education programs and integrate environmental literacy and outdoor learning into other core subjects. 


“Educating students about the natural world is a core mission area of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island,” explains Lawrence Taft, Audubon executive director. It is imperative that the next generation have a solid understanding of our natural environment. If children do not form a personal connection to the environment, they will not be invested enough to protect it in the future. This federal funding allows us to bring innovative science-based environmental education to students living in Rhode Island cities. We are grateful to Senator Reed for his efforts in securing this funding.”


“The Pawtucket School Department is so appreciative of this opportunity of an enhanced environmental education program,” said Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools Dr. Cheryl McWilliams. “We are grateful for Senator Reed's advocacy and securing funding for experiential learning with the Audubon Society.  Our students will greatly enjoy this program!”


During the visit, students learned about the attributes that contribute to a bird being labeled a raptor, which include strong talons, keen eyesight, and curved beaks.  They also got a lesson on owls’ super senses – including keen vision and hearing – and learned how owls use their talons to grab prey and their feathers to camouflage themselves in the wild.


The students also learned how the Audubon Society of Rhode Island works to rehabilitate birds if they are hurt and return them to their natural habitats.


Audubon Society of Rhode Island is an independent not-for-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting birds, wildlife, and their habitats through environmental education, advocacy, and land conservation. The state’s first environmental organization, Audubon Society of RI now protects nearly 9,500 acres in a network of wildlife refuges, pristine properties, and wildlife habitats.