Roosevelt Robinson told the kids to make sure they were wearing protective eyewear. It was spring break for many local schools, and Robinson warned them that they did not want to go back to school the following week with an eye patch.
Boys line the tables set up in the middle of a field at Millbrook. The boys face each other, set up in teams of two, to build birdhouses. The birdhouses, with their exactly one-and-a-half-inch diameter holes are meant for endangered songbirds to nest.
Robinson is an Urban Regional Extension Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. His role is delivering educational outreach to underserved adult and youth populations in Alabama.
Today, he is working with the youth of the Fortitude Academy at GreenSky Gives Family Farm to establish recovery trails for endangered songbirds, such as chickadees, tree swallows and eastern bluebirds.
As the boys assemble the birdhouses, they’re told to put the nails in their pockets, so they don’t lead to tire punctures later if a car drives onto the field. Robinson turns a hammer around in a boy’s hand to help him pull out a misaligned nail.
Robinson said that he has seen the boys’ confidence with tools grow.
“So, it’s good to see them use it and get a little hands-on experience with this kind of thing,” said Robinson.
Later the boys pick up power drills and are told to be careful about splitting the wood. Robinson tells them to remember “righty tighty, lefty loosey.” Some boys struggled with applying enough pressure.
A couple of the groups affix a piece of wood to the wrong side of the birdhouse and need to remove it with hammers before they can continue.
One of the boys struggled with the power drill after the others have finished the step—his screw was not going into the wood. He told Robinson that he “can’t” do it, and Robinson told him not to use the word “can’t.” Robinson helped him get the wood and screws aligned, and the nest box came together.
“There’s nothing that they can’t do,” said Robinson. “They’ve got every available resource to them all they have to do is reach out and say they need some help.”
Robinson said that during his time with the kids, he has seen them become more interested in birds and STEM topics. According to Robinson, one of the boys asked him about how to become an ornithologist.
“We’re going to introduce them as many areas as we possibly can to steer them towards those STEM jobs because we know that’s the direction that employment is going,” said Robinson.
When asked about his interest in ornithology, Demitri, 15, explained that he wanted to build bird houses for his job.
Demitri had assumed that birdhouses were hard to build at first.
“But, now that I’m building it, I kind of want to build birdhouses for a living,” said Demitri.
There will be an increase in STEM jobs in the future, according to Robinson, and he explained that research shows that kids lose interest in STEM fields as they grow older. He wants to get the kids interested in the outdoors and away from their screens.
Robinson had the boys carry their birdhouses on poles into the field.
The first step was for the boys to identify North. Robinson explained that storms in Alabama will come from the Northwest, so they need the houses either facing East or South. Then, they need to hammer the rebar two feet into the ground, with two feet still above ground.
The first group hammers in the rebar. They measure the rebar at 27 inches above ground and then proceed to hammer more slowly until there is precisely 24 inches above ground.
The kids place the birdhouse attached hollow pole over the rebar and face it East. Robinson made them take the birdhouse because he wasn’t ready for photos.
After the birdhouse is placed, Robinson leads them across the field. The grass is taller in this area, so different kinds of birds may be attracted to this spot.
Earlier, Robinson had explained the importance of picking the right spot. If there’s an overhanging tree, a snake or a squirrel could leap drop from the tree to the house.
Demitri and his teammate place their birdhouse facing South.
After the boys become builders or ornithologists or whatever else they choose, they’ll be able to identify their birdhouses by the names and dates written on the bottom.
“What we want to do is ensure that the people that come along and see these nest boxes they know who assembled the nest box,” said Robinson.
Jemma Stephenson is the children and education reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser. You can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 334-261-1569.