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For the Birds - from The Messenger

April 22, 2023

It's possible that no other Fort Dodge dining establishment has ever opened to nothing but rave reviews from its patrons, but that's exactly what happened with the Bird Feeder Cafe in the first grade pod at Duncombe Elementary School on Friday afternoon.

The first grade classes at Duncombe wrapped up their monthslong unit on birds by inviting their families to their bird-themed cafe staffed by the students themselves.

The Bird Feeder Cafe - and its previous iterations - is the brainchild of veteran first-grade teacher Laurel Redmond, who started the tradition with an ocean cafe and a rainforest cafe with fellow educators Ruth Yoder and Nancy Sampson at the former Otho Elementary School.

The Ocean Cafe became an annual tradition, but it just didn't work out for the past few years, Redmond said. But this year, they decided to bring it back and tie it into the bird unit.

"We thought this would be a good year to bring it back," she said.

The cafe activity gives students an opportunity to showcase what they've learned about birds over the last several months and to practice their customer service skills. Each student is given a job to do - greeter, host/hostess, server, ticket seller, bird feeder seller, food line worker, photographer, hand sanitizer, translators, bussers and managers.

First-grader Liam Schuur got to show off his leadership capabilities as he served as manager for one of the classroom cafes.

"I've been checking on stuff," he said.

As any manager knows, sometimes the job carries some tough responsibilities. For the most part, Schuur said, his "employees" were doing good work.

"But one had to get fired," he said. "She pushed me, then she did again so she got double-fired but she just kept doing her job."

As guests were seated at the cafe tables set up in the classrooms - complete with bird-themed centerpieces and placemats - their pint-sized servers would hand them a menu with all of the bird snacks available. Other students would float around and offer hand sanitizer to the cafe's guests.

Redmond said she and the other teachers found some cute bird-themed recipes online to use, including using cream cheese, olives and carrots to make penguins on crackers.

After enjoying their avian-inspired snacks, guests were given a survey to rate their experience. No official score was released, but The Messenger estimates the cafe received a solid five-out-of-five stars.

The bird unit has been a cross-curricular one, with lessons spanning math, science, literacy and art, Redmond said. Nearly every inch of wall space in the first grade pod was covered with drawings of birds or writing activities the budding ornithologists worked on over the last several months.

"They've done research, they've written clues for riddles," she said. "Every one of them is an expert on a specific bird."

No one knows the magnificent frigatebird as well as first-grader Javi Castillo-Ruiz.

"It has big boobs," he said, referring to the distinctive red gular pouch that male frigatebirds inflate during breeding season to attract mates.

The frigatebird is a fast bird, Castillo-Ruiz said, adding that they can go up to 200 kilometers per hour.

"An interesting fact - they are champion flyers," he said. "That's why I call it the magnificent frigatebird."

"Magnificent" frigatebird is more than just an adjective - it's the name of the largest species of frigatebird. Castillo-Ruiz also added that in Spanish, the bird is called "ave fragata."

First-grader Charlotte Niemand, who worked as a server taking and delivering orders, is an expert in the peregrine falcon.

"They live in cities and parks and countrysides," she said.

The peregrine falcon is a hunter and eats different types of prey like pigeons and other smaller birds, Niemand said. The bird also has something that makes it extra special.

"They're the fastest bird on Earth," she said. "Like 200 miles per hour."

Schuur is the resident expert on the red-billed oxpecker, which is native to the grasslands of sub-saharan Africa.

"What it does is it eats the ticks off of zebras and cleans the blood so it doesn't get hurt," he said.

In addition to being an opportunity for the students to show off their knowledge and have their families see all the work they've been doing, they also worked to collect donations for a very special class gift.

"They made the little clips that we're selling and they made the little bird feeders that we're selling," Redmond said. "And that's because we hope to raise money to buy a stand and a bird feeder outside each classroom's window."

In previous years, the funds raised were used to adopt marine animals like manatees, she said.

This year's Bird Feeder Cafe was the final one for Redmond, who will retire this spring after 37 years of teaching in the Fort Dodge Community School District. She said she hopes the staff at Duncombe will continue the tradition.

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