The Custer Elementary gymnasium was a fitting scene Dec. 5 for the upcoming holiday season. The gym housed a large group of 4th grade students making birdhouses in order to raise money for an upcoming field trip to Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha.
With all the hammering and woodworking going on, it wasn’t much less than shop chocked full of Santa’s elves.
The birdhouse building project is a long-standing Custer Elementary School tradition that is headed by Jim Hartman, who is in his 36th year of teaching.
Hartman came up with the idea for the birdhouses by going on his own field trip of sorts.
“My first birdhouse I made was when Arbor Day Lodge offered an outdoor workshop type of thing for two weeks and I went to that and one of the things they had there was a project making birdhouses, so I used that as an idea to help raise some money the first time we did this,” Hartman said.
Hartman frequents art shows and tries to come up with ideas that he feels are easy enough for the elementary school students to be able to work on themselves with some assistance from teachers and other adults. This is something he plans to do more of when he retires after next school year.
The idea for the Henry Doorly Zoo came about just when the project itself did, over 20 years ago. The school board approved the trip, but told the teachers and students that they had to come up with the money for the trip.
Expenses for the trip include lunchables for the kids on the way back from the zoo (they take their own sack lunches on the way to the zoo) fuel costs, bus driver fees and other travel expenses.
The group usually raises between $1,200 and $1,600 dollars, but they had a bigger group than usual this year, so Hartman wouldn’t be surprised to see the dollar amount rise this year.
A lot of the kids end up buying the birdhouses they or other student’s build and give them to friends and family members for Christmas presents.
While some have the zoo trip as motivation, there are others, such as 4th grader Alex Wenquist that just enjoy the experience no matter what they get out of it.
“My favorite part is probably assembling it,” Wenquist said. “I just love to build things. I don’t care what it is. I like building with Kinnects, Legos and wood.”
For classmate Tristan Butler, he loves the motivation of being able to go to the zoo as a reward for having raised the money.
“I’m really excited to go to the zoo,” Butler said. “The white tigers are my favorite.”
While Hartman feels that the kids’ favorite part about building the birdhouses was being able to get out of class to build them, he also feels that they learned a lot from the experience.
“It’s something that helps the environment as well as a way to make presents for aunts and uncles and loved ones,” Hartman said. “It gives them a chance to practice some salesmanship and sell their projects. They wood burn their names on them too, so these provide a more personal touch than some other gifts.