Bird Watching Helps North Fond du Lac Students Connect With Each Other, Environment 

A study published in Scientific Reports October issue found that seeing or hearing birds improved people’s mental well-being for up to eight hours.  

For a group of Treffert Way School for the Exceptional Mind within The School District of North Fond du Lac, bird watching has a whole different benefit. A total of 18 seventh to ninth grade students recently took advantage of a quiet winter day at Lakeside Park’s Frasier Point to explore the diversified varieties of birds available locally. 

Treffert Way is a school of optional enrollment for all students, inclusively designed to provide diverse learners with an appropriately matched educational environment that will invite them to explore and recognize their potential for life success. 

“This trip is an extension of a current teacher-led project based on birds and birding,” according to instructor Tim Williams. “For this trip, the students are researching the bird sightings that are happening at Lakeside Park, especially Frazier Point. The research includes becoming familiar with how the species looks, sounds, and what behaviors to watch for. Many of the students will extend the basic requirement to find out where the ‘unique species’ breed, travel, and other traits.” 

The larger project requires learning about bird anatomy, identification, and behavior. It also includes other mini research ideas throughout the course including breeding, eggs, feathers, pigmentation and the ability of birds to see different colors, and viruses like the bird flu and the consequences on our world. The student choice and voice is an open project relating to birds. The students each chose a project that highly interests them based on birds.   

“This field trip was requested by the students,” Williams says. “It will help many of the students with their individual projects. All the preparation the students are doing is an aspect of the project itself.  

“One of our major focuses as part of the Treffert Way is social emotional learning,” Williams adds. “This is a way for students to connect with each other, the environment, and the community. Systems is another part of the Treffert Approach. Exposing our students to community resources is a way to involve them and their families in the community.” 

Students found the day very rewarding and beneficial.  

“My favorite part was seeing the ducks, especially the hooded merganser and lesser scaup,” according to Jude Bonzelet, a seventh grade student. “I also liked feeding the birds.” 

Mina O’Neil, an eighth grade student, agreed. “The trip was refreshing. It helped me get closer to nature. I was disappointed by the amount of trash thrown on the ground at the park.” 

Desmond Commo, a ninth grade student, shares, “The most exciting thing, and that I was really hoping for to happen, is a bird landed on my hand!” 

The Treffert Way incorporates a six-part approach to education based on Dr. Darold Treffert’s work called the Treffert Approach. Dr. Treffert, who passed away in 2020, was an internationally respected researcher in exceptional brain performance. His approach benefits everyone, helping us all to find and use our strengths. The Treffert Way School for the Exceptional Mind embodies this approach into all that teachers and students do throughout the day. 

“Looking at the Treffert Approach these types of activities often play to the strengths of students and their interests,” according to Bryan Mischler, LCSW, Autism Treatment, SSM Health Behavioral Health/SSM Health Treffert Center. “Often students have skills that are not recognized when traditional educational tasks are required. For this task, skills – such as attention to detail, observation and research prior to the outing, focusing on nature and the natural environment – are all required when this type of work is done.  

“Developing relationships through shared experiences and working together in teams is a life skill that is reflected in the Treffert Approach and this project,” Mischler adds. “Sensory integration through the incorporation of many senses into learning and using nature as a recuperative experience are additional examples. This type of activity exposes kids to experiences they may not otherwise have had. This allows them to explore possible career paths and interests they didn’t know were available.” 

To learn more about the Treffert Approach, visit            

Story written by Shelly Haberman. Senior Communications Consultant SSM Health Greater Fond du Lac Region