By DUSTIN BLITCHOK
Special to The Oakland Press
Francie Krawcke hands a Great Horn Owl to a student at Children's Village on Oct. 13 in Pontiac. Krawcke is from the Leslie Nature Center in Ann Arbor and is bringing the bird to Children's Village for a five-week animal therapy program. The Oakland Press/TIM THOMPSON Troubled teens at Children’s Village are learning about respect for nature in a program with birds of prey.
In the process, they’re building confidence and self-esteem and “don’t even realize they’re doing it,” said Laura Beale, the supervisor of the Boys Treatment Secure program. Francie Krawcke, the director of the raptor program at Ann Arbor’s Leslie Science and Nature Center, brings birds native to Michigan, such as the American Kestrel and Great Horned Owl, to Children’s Village, and teaches students how to handle them.
Krawcke said that the “Raptor Respect” program is setting teens at Children’s Village up for academic success. “They’re doing classroom work, but not looking at it as classroom work,” she said. Krawcke said that the teens “need something concrete to learn with.”
Beale, the supervisor of the BTS program, said that the goal at Children’s Village is treatment, so that “hopefully they don’t carry on their behaviors as young adults.” Boys in the program are between the ages of 14 and 17. She said that Krawcke is “well in-tune (with the teens), and picks up on their individual abilities.”
Krawcke said that working hands-on with the birds increases the EQ, or emotional quotient, of the teenage boys at Children’s Village. She said that many of the teens have difficulty reading each other’s emotions.
“The birds totally open them up,” she said. “Owls are steady animals. It’s very easy to read them.” Krawcke said that she begins the program with birds that are calm and able to deal with people. She transports the birds to and from Ann Arbor in dark, ventilated travel boxes.
“Raptor Respect” is cross-curricular: language arts, geography, math, and science are incorporated into the program. Students receive class credit for participating. The Waterford School District operates the school at Children’s Village, and is co-sponsoring Raptor Respect with the Children’s Village Foundation. Students at Children’s Village attend classes Monday through Friday, as they would at a traditional school.
The birds at Leslie Science and Nature Center all come from rehabilitation facilities, and have injuries that would make it impossible for them to survive in the wild. Krawcke said that the time at Children’s Village is as therapeutic for the birds as it is for the teens.
Raptors are “wild animals in captivity, and there is no perfect place for them.” Krawcke said, “we strive to give them enough physical and mental stimulation to remain healthy.” The visits to Children’s Village mean that the birds are exposed to new people and worked with four days a week, said Krawcke. “The children are volunteers, (in that) they are helping to care for these animals.”
At the end of the six weeks, teens who are eligible will be able to go to the Leslie Science and Nature Center on a field trip. The students will make a final presentation at Children’s Village, including a written report and slideshow presentation, and their families will be invited. If they are comfortable with handling one, the teens will have a bird with them during their presentations.
Krawcke said that she was not nervous about working with adjudicated minors. “I’m the lady with the birds,” she said. “I don’t have to keep their attention. The birds will get their attention.”
The Leslie Science and Nature Center can be reached at lesliesnc.org or 734-997-1553. The nature center is located at 1831 Traver Road in Ann Arbor, and the raptor enclosures can be viewed anytime during daylight hours
The students at Oakland County Children’s Village School in Pontiac, which is operated by the Waterford School District under contract, are giving back to America’s veterans in a warm way. The school has donated over 100 student-made blankets to veterans at Ann Arbor’s Veterans’ Hospital as part of the program “Lap Blankets for Veterans.” The students created the blankets after school and the blankets are placed in the laps of veterans who are confined to wheelchairs. “One of our teachers, Bonnie Wells, has a son in the military and thought this would be something for our students to do,” said Diane Behrendt, Children’s Village School principal. “The kids can receive community service credit for their efforts — it’s amazing.” She added that the blankets were created by students ranging from seventh- to 12th-graders. Wells applied for grants to buy the materials and the grants were presented by the Waterford Foundation, Metro North Credit Union, and the Children’s Village Foundation. Classroom teacher assistants Sue Dannenberg, Shannon Lovegrove, and Linda Smith also helped organize the program. Similar lap blanket for veterans drives are held throughout the country. Oakland County Children’s Village seeks to provide education and guidance for troubled youth and juvenile offenders.