Success Stories: Buster’s Bird Nerds

The Rogue Birders website has more information about Buster’s Bird Nerds.

A teacher in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District – Richard (Buster) Banish – has an after school club called Buster’s Bird Nerds. His club members (18 this year) are in the Collingwood neighborhood and are all African American kids. They meet once a week immediately after school to discuss birds and birding. He has invited guest speakers to present topics and our chapter has presented two programs (Warbler Warm Up and Urban Birds). The kids are middle school age and really engaged. He takes small groups of them birding locally and has taken the whole club to Magee Marsh in May, 2019. Sadly, the 2020 trip was cancelled due to COVID19.

Support for activities has come from a variety of sources – Swarovski Optik provides the loan of binoculars for all the kids going to Magee – Local birders have met Buster and his kids for field trips in the Cleveland area – Audubon Chapters (WCAS) have invited the kids to participate in activities including Urban Birding Week – Patterson’s Fruit Farm has a store and gives Buster fresh donuts any time he has the kids nearby – Buster has applied for special grants to support bus rental for the Magee trip – and Audubon Society of Greater Cleveland (ASGC) has committed to ongoing support of up to $3,000/year to support whatever activities the club needs money for (this was meant primarily to support the annual Magee trip but can be used for other things as well). Additional fundraising events help as well. For example, a June 2020 fundraiser in Cleveland sponsored by separate groups netted almost $9,000 to support the Bird Nerds! All these monies are carefully controlled by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

The kids participated in the 2019 Bird Quest (an annual September program sponsored by the ASGC), and over 60 people had the opportunity to meet them during the celebration and learn about the program. The result was the the ASGC committed to support them financially — allowing Buster to focus on the kids instead of chasing money for every activity. The chapter’s connection is becoming even stronger: in June 2020, Matt Valencic met Buster and four club members for a bird walk in the ASGC Novak Sanctuary in Aurora, OH. Buster plans to have another team compete in the 2020 Bird Quest on September 11-12.

Buster’s commitment and skill set is unique and unusual among teachers, but should serve as an inspiration for other science teachers to consider something similar. How can your chapter support a ‘big hearted’ teacher to make special things happen for minority kids in your city? Maybe you have a retired teacher in your chapter who feels ‘the call’ to start something like this at a school near you.

The Rogue Birders website has more information about Buster’s Bird Nerds.

Cleveland’s WKYC ran a story on the Bird Nerds.