A School Problem


(This 1016th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on September 12, 2010.)


Earlier this summer Christopher Betrus of Salamanca Middle School posted the following message on a western New York birders email list:


"I apologize if this topic is off thread, but I am a teacher at a regional school and my students need your help. I teach seventh grade science at a public school in Cattaraugus County and like many districts, mine was hit hard by the reduction in state aid. Our decrease led to a reduction in staff of over 20 people in my district and as a result my principal had to schedule many of our students with two study halls every day. To decrease the time that students spend in study halls, my principal and I developed and proposed a Western New York Zoology enrichment course to the board of education. The course was approved, but there is no money to fund it.

       "I am excited to have the opportunity to introduce more than fifty students each year to the wonders of birding and I hope to incorporate as much fieldwork as possible. Our school has three natural areas within walking distance that represent several different habitats, so outdoor opportunities are abundant, however equipment is the limiting factor."

"I am trying to get at least one pair of binoculars for each pair of students to share. So far, I have received some support from local businesses and have applied for a couple of small grants, but I am far short of my goal of a class set for the students to use. So now I turn to you, my fellow birders. If you have binoculars that you no longer use that would be serviceable for middle school students to use, we would greatly appreciate your donation. We donŐt need anything fancy, just some binoculars you have lying around in a closet and don't use any more. I can pick up at most locations in Erie and Cattaraugus Countries and can make arrangements with other locations as well."


Betrus' posting communicated two messages to me. First, it underscores how deeply this depression is cutting into the lives of our children. His message makes clear the fact that his middle school is cutting its academic program by another ten percent. That seems just plain wrong.


But second, it shows how individuals in our society step forward during tough times to take on additional responsibilities. I was raised during the '30s when this country was suffering another depression and I saw much of Betrus' kind of conduct then. In good times as well as bad, however, good people like him have contributed to those less fortunate. That is one of the most encouraging features of this country.

I didn't know Betrus but, intrigued by his situation, I contacted him last week to see how his project was going. Not too well, apparently.


He responded, "The plan to get binoculars for each pair of students to share certainly is not going as well as planned, but there is always hope. My class size has increased (two different groups of 28 students) so the need is greater than anticipated, but I have made some progress. People from the birding community were very supportive with suggestions of ways to get help, however, nobody was able to donate any binoculars."


I can understand why birders don't have binoculars to contribute. When they buy new optics, they pass their old ones on to newcomers to the field.


Betrus has applied for grants and appealed to local stores with little success. Walmart has given some help, but he is still left with a half dozen binoculars for class groups of 28 students. That just isn't right.


I hope readers of this column can assist this deserving teacher. I wish I had posted this column earlier, because his need is now. Already shorebirds are passing through the region, small flocks of southbound warblers are being reported and blackbirds and swallows are gathering into large flocks. After the breeding season the population of birds is even larger than in spring.


If you can help Christopher Betrus with a contribution toward his project, please contact him. You can reach him at his email address, cbetrus@salamancany.org, or by phone at 716-945-2405.-- Gerry Rising