Owl barf, volcanoes make for perfect day

Nelissa Boodaghyan, 10, wrapped bits of tinfoil around her fingers before picking up a regurgitated owl pellet the size of a chicken wing.

“I am not a nature lover,” she conceded sheepishly.

But finding her improvised finger protectors too cumbersome, she flicked them off and got to work. Nearby, her Jefferson Elementary School classmates did the same, finding in the crusty masses remnants of rodent skulls, mole vertebrae and bird legs.

“I found teeth,” someone called out.

The pellet dissection was one feature in “Walk on the Wild Side,” a hands-on learning experience at Deukmejian Wilderness Park in La Crescenta to complement the fourth-grade science curriculum.

“It shows them another world,” said Dottie Sharkey, head of the Glendale Parks and Open Space Foundation, which is helping the city of Glendale sponsor the series. “It is what they learn in the classroom, and they come out here and they see it.”

It also serves to get children from south and west Glendale out of the city and into open spaces, said Marc Stirdivant, a senior administrative analyst with the Community Services and Parks Department.

“So many of these kids have never been in nature at all,” Stirdivant said. “We selected schools from the south of the city — they don’t get up here much.”

The Jefferson students were the fourth group to visit the park as part of “Walk on the Wild Side.” The field day was developed in conjunction with the Glendale Unified School District, which was looking for a way to bring the fourth-grade curriculum to life, Stirdivant said.

School officials provided park naturalists with fourth-grade textbooks, asking them to stick closely to the books’ contents.

Ready to pilot the program but still short of a way to transport the students, the Community Services and Parks Department applied for a grant with the Habitat Conservation Fund, but the money was allocated to next year’s program.

They turned to the Glendale Parks and Open Space Foundation, which agreed to pick up the transportation tab.

Students in the program learn some of the fundamentals of life and study earth sciences. In addition to dissecting regurgitated pellets, students experimented with the mechanics of a volcano and hunted for fossils.

“These are the kids who need it the most,” Stirdivant said.

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