Harrisburg (WHTM) No doubt about it, bats get a bad rap. Just seeing them flying around at night can creep some people out. Just ask some fifth graders at Melrose Elementary School.

“I was seeing them up there at nighttime,” says J’ziah Baineg. “I kept seeing them circling around me, and one kept coming closer.”

Get daily news, weather, breaking news, and alerts straight to your inbox! Sign up for the abc27 newsletters here

Keiyon Waters had his close encounter during a game. “I was up at Reservoir playing football with my friends, and a bat just flew near us.”

But bats are in trouble. Their populations are dropping, and they need our help. Fifth graders at Melrose Elementary School are doing their part. They spent part of the day painting bat houses.

“They like to live in dark places, like caves, they like to live in chimneys, which is why we’re making bat houses,” says Keiyon.

Bat houses are a bit different from the typical birdhouse. Instead of a hole to fly into an open space, bat houses have an opening in the bottom leading up to partitions. The bats cling to these walls, as many as can fit in.

Danielle Lewis, the City of Harrisburg Sustainability Coordinator, says “this is one of the first things we wanted to jump into, environmental and sustainable education.”

The project brings together the Harrisburg Parks and Recreation Department, Public Works Department, and the school district to teach kids about conservation, and specifically about bats.

“They’ve been really interested in everything we’ve been learning about conservation and threatened and endangered species. They learned about the small-footed bat which is actually endangered here in Pennsylvania, they got to learn what threatened animals are, what endangered animals are, and how we can actually conserve them.”

And where will the finished houses end up? Danielle Lewis says they’ll be placed in some city parks.

“Reservoir Park and Wilson Park. Hopefully by next spring.”

So will this program come back next year?

“Yes, we are planning on doing this next year, possibly on a larger scale, so we’ll see, but so far things have been going great.”

Student Arihana Gonzalez has learned some things –

“They’re sensitive to heat and cold, and they eat bugs.”

-and unlearned some others.

“They look like they’re going to fly into your hair, but actually not.”