The Building Migratory Bridges (BMB) program-a collaboration between the Marvelwood School and Audubon Sharon in Connecticut and Conservation Research Education Action (CREA), a U.S. not-for-profit in Panama--uses neotropical migratory bird research in the United States and Panama to demonstrate how negative environmental impacts in one country can have harmful consequences in others. In this article, we discuss the BMB program in terms of the student-learning and community-service opportunities it presents. We conclude that more hands-on science programs that analyze root causes of critical global issues are needed if students are to comprehend and tackle world environmental challenges.
The importance of encouraging students to participate in the discourse on escalating global environmental and social problems cannot be underestimated. Indeed, it is imperative that today's youth become competent and principled citizens and leaders of tomorrow. Programs that raise awareness about the critical challenges of the 21st century and their ultimate scientific causes are, in our view, a necessary component of a modern science education.
Terborgh states that "migration is a chain whose strength is that of its weakest link" (1989, p. 157). Neotropical migratory bird species spend two to three months on their summer breeding grounds in North America and the remaining months on their wintering grounds in Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition to these critical habitats, migratory birds need a chain of undisturbed habitats along their migratory route in which to make stopovers. Unfortunately many links of this chain are being lost to uncontrolled tropical deforestation.
Migratory birds establish the need for us to exchange ideas and information among different nations and cultures to promote local solutions to global problems. The BMB program provides opportunities for students from the United States and Panama to research negative environmental impacts on neotropical migratory birds. Recognizing the inequalities between educational opportunities in the United States and Panama--only primary school is free in Panama, hence most rural children drop out at 12 years old--the BMB program provides opportunities for students from different backgrounds in two geographic localities to collaborate in meaningful hands-on scientific projects, working together toward a common conservation goal. The program is multifaceted and in alignment with numerous National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996) (Figure 1, p. 57).
BMB in Panama
In January 2007, seven high school students from Marvel-wood School set off to Panama to join two Panamanian students at CREA's newly constructed field school within Cocobolo Nature Reserve. (Note: This article is primarily about the U.S. students' experience in Panama; for information on the Panamanian students who travel to the United States, see "Studying migratory birds in the field, p. 61.") Students participated in neotropical migratory bird research and performed community service in rural Panamanian villages, where CREA recently began a community farming project aimed at reducing deforestation in the area.
The Cocobolo Nature Reserve is a 1,000-acre tract of land in the Mamoni Valley of eastern Panama. The reserve straddles the Pacific slope of Panama's continental divide mountain range and protects primary and secondary forest surrounding several headwaters of the Mamoni River. Mamoni Valley is home to four rural communities whose chronic poverty is linked to a deforestation problem that continues due in part to ignorance of alternatives. This is a remote area, requiring a 2.5-hour drive in four-wheel-drive vehicles to access. Because of its relative inaccessibility, this area has until now escaped the attention of scientists, and many of the species that are locally extinct in other parts of Panama still exist there. …