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Thinking outside the nest box

Frank Lagodny examines duck nest box made by Prosser students installed early this year western suburbs. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times

Frank Lagodny examines a duck nest box, made by Prosser students and installed early this year in the western suburbs. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 10, 2013 6:26AM

When the bleachers were replaced at Prosser Career Academy, the engineers gave shop teacher Frank Lagodny the wood.

‘‘We got all this wood and didn’t know what to do with it,’’ Lagodny said.

What became of the initial pile of 2x10 pine at the school on Chicago’s Northwest Side sparked a growing wild experience.

The students began building nest boxes for wood ducks for their required service hours. The program has since exploded into a multi-discipline effort touching many other groups and many areas across the Midwest.

That first batch of wood required work on stripping, sanding and routing. Then came assembly.

First, 80 boxes went to Delta Waterfowl, an innovative conservation group in North America, for use in Indiana and Illinois. Some boxes went to public areas in Indiana, others to spots along the Illinois River.

‘‘I remember most coming in early in the morning building these duck houses right before class started,’’ student Rubicely Carrera said. ‘‘It was a fun experience to be a part of this project. I remember last year I went to Aurora for putting up the duck houses for Ducks Unlimited.’’

She’s talking about a DU Greenwings (youth) event to install boxes at a creek at a west suburban farm. Guide Jeff Norris of Fox Valley Guide Service was open to hosting the DU event where he hunts. That’s where Lagodny and I cross paths. We both hunt with Norris.

‘‘I like it — it is combination of support of the world’s greatest conservation organization and getting kids outdoors,’’ said Bill Fester, area chair for the Windy City Ducks Unlimited.

He is trying to figure out broader ideas to do with Prosser students and DU.

Three Prosser students — Monaserrat Vazquez, Carrera and Fernanda Sosa —attended the Greenwings duck-box-placement event.

‘‘They had a ball,’’ Lagodny said. ‘‘They were just fascinated with the whole outdoors experience.’’

On other levels, the program expanded, too. Artists made posters, which I find entertaining, for student involvement. And the program is expanded out in science, too.

On Nov. 20, 31 students installed 15 nest boxes at River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook. They dug the holes for the posts, put the posts in and attached the boxes.

‘‘Our job here is education through real experience with nature, with the forests, habitats and creatures,’’ naturalist Brian Winters said. ‘‘Bringing students into that type of project gave them experience with the carpentry and woodworking skills they are learning and connected them to science with this project. I am excited about that.’’

This was not a one-time thing. Each box was numbered, and the GPS for each one was noted. That will allow scientific tracking of how many boxes are used, where they are used and how many are taken over by other creatures.

Staff from the Forest Preserve District of Cook County identified suitable locations for the placement of the boxes, then supervised and advised the students during installation.

‘‘Once they were on site, we explained why that was a good place to put them,’’ Winters said.

The selected sites are primarily in flooded backwaters near the Des Plaines River.

‘‘Other visitors are already asking about them,’’ Winters said. ‘‘That presents itself with its own teachable moment. They want to know what they are. It starts that conversation.’’

A beginning, from an unexpected source.

I figure 99 percent of life is muddling through. It’s that 1 percent that can make all the difference in life, in the world. This is one.

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