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What We Do

Winn Brook School Watershed Project

In the fall of 2010 I approached our principal, Janet Carey, and discussed the possibility of having Winn Brook become a part of Dr. Windmiller's, "Head Start Program for the Blanding's Turtles". Janet was very enthusiastic and like me, saw the tremendous value of bringing such a meaningful educational opportunity to the students at Winn Brook. With "respect" being one of our core values, putting it into action would be a profound and meaningful experience for our students. What better way than to incorporate an attitude of respect than to have children learning the respect of our environment by helping a species of local turtle which is being threatened? A FBE grant was written and we were given the funds to go ahead and proceed with our program.

With the funds received we purchased all the necessary equipment that Dr. Windmiller recommended to help with the turtles care. In mid December, Dr. Windmiller arrived at Winn Brook School with two young turtles. Both turtles had been born in August from different mothers according to his records. These turtles were indentified solely by a number marking system that he uses for scientific identification. He doesn't use actual numerals but he cuts small notches into the turtles' carapaces near their tails right after there are hatched. Using the design on the turtle's shell he makes notches so that they are in place value order. Winn Brook received turtles #108 and #124. Male or female determination of the turtles would take place later in the spring at the Franklin Park Zoo.

Watershed project at Winn Brook

With the two new turtle residents the work and learning began in earnest. Background information about reptiles, along with proper turtle care and safety was taught to the students. Their enthusiasm for this project was palpable. From the very beginning students noticed the differences between the two new turtle residents. One turtle was slightly smaller and as one student observed "shy", whereas the other turtle was slightly larger and more gregarious. The larger of the two would swim to the aquarium side and appear to be looking at the students much to their joy and entertainment. One student and his family purchased a large perching and hiding log for the turtles to help make their new accommodations more hospitable. One turtle loved to climb on top of this log and do a high dive into the water.

That amused the students to no end. Some of the children were so thrilled that the turtles were in residence that they wrote fictionalized stories about the turtles and their adventures or in some cases turtle misadventures!

Part of our responsibility to Dr. Windmiller was to weigh and measure the length of the turtles' carapace (top shell) on a regular basis and maintain a graph with the data. Turtle #108 arrived at Winn Brook weighing38.5 grams and was 6.8 cm in length, and turtle #124 weighed in at 37.8 and was 6.8 centimeters in length. After students were taught the correct way to weigh and measure the turtles they were able to do this task without much assistance. We sent our data to Dr. Windmiller each month where he documented this information for the state. This measuring and weighing correlated directly to our mathematics and science curriculum in Belmont.

Before too long the students were asking if we could officially name our turtles. They didn't like the idea that our turtles were merely indentified by a number. After checking in with Dr. Windmiller, and receiving the go ahead to name our new friends, a teacher meeting was held to try and determine how we would go about the task of naming our turtle residents. It was decided that we would have a school-wide nomination process, and then take the name suggestions and have a school-wide vote. One small problem was that we still didn't know if the turtles were male or female so children were encouraged to think of names that would fit either a male or female. Many names were nominated, but it was determined that just 3 names were the most popular. Ballots were printed and distributed to each of the classes. Those ballots were collected and counted. The result of vote was clear; one turtle would be named M&M and the other turtle's new name would be Skittles. These new names were kept secret and then were revealed at a school-wide assembly. At this assembly Janet Carey shared a Power point presentation that she had created which illustrated the differences between a reptile and other animals. Included was a graphic on what it means to be classified as a threatened species and what causes animals to be declared ‘threatened'. Many children had heard of animals being classified as endangered, but not threatened. Most of those endangered animals students are familiar with are the more well-known or "glamorous" kinds of animals from distant continents. Since the Blanding's Turtle is considered a threatened local turtle species, the children learned the causes and what could be done to prevent these turtles from further endangerment. The fact that they had the power to help change the plight of a local species so that it, too, didn't join the ranks of the extinct animals was profound. The naming process and school-wide assembly brought our school community together. Children learned that their voices could be heard with their vote and they also learned that by respecting our Earth and all of the creatures on it they can make the world a better place.

The FBE funds were also used to support educational outreach from Drumlin Farms. Two field experts/educators came and instructed the 2nd and 3rd grade classes on pond life habitat with hands-on investigations and animal adaptations especially as it pertains to turtles. During each presentation there were living creatures present. Students investigated and made observations during both presentations. Each of the 8 classes (4-2nd grades, 4- 3rd grades) involved received this training on two separate occasions over an eight week period.

In April both turtles were brought to Franklin Park Zoo where a veterinarian inserted a small camera scope into each of the turtles to determine the sex of each reptile. The students were anxious to hear the news but our M&M and Skittles weren't the only turtles to be examined that day. Dr. Windmiller brought 30 turtles to the Franklin Park Zoo for this test. He reported the results on turtle after turtle, but nothing came through about our turtles. Finally right before the end of the day our results came through. It was one of each for Winn Brook. A boy and a girl! This was especially exciting because out of the 30 turtles tested that day only 8 were females. When the students heard the exciting news they were joyous! Having a female meant that our Skittles would be outfitted with a small transmitter for future tracking.

On a very rainy, cool, day in late June M&M was released back into the Great Meadows in Concord. (Skittles would be release the following day after being tagged with a transmitter) Both turtles had grown and gained significant weight, and were very healthy. Dr. Windmiller met several Winn Brook families that day in Great Meadows. I handed over M&M for the last time and he weighed and measured him one final time for his records. He re-notched his shell with his first identification number #108, and he explained that probably in approximately 7 years or so he might find M&M again. Dr. Windmiller handed M&M to the children and they walked silently over to the edge of the water and gently placed him on the water line. At first M&M just sat there, but then nature took over and he dove into the water- his new home and natural habitat. For a few moments the only sound that could be heard was the raindrops falling onto the water with a plop, plop, plop. M&M swam under some leaves and stayed there for a moment and then he was gone to his forever home. As Mother Teresa once said, "No one is capable of doing great things, but each of us are capable of doing small things with great love." The Children of Winn Brook School learned that day that in a small way, with their special care and love, they had helped to save two turtles and that by doing so; they may have helped to change the course of the future.

As an educator, I know that this learning experience was profound and empowering for the students. They learned about respect of our environment and about how the choices we make can affect other living creatures. The students also learned that they can make positive changes to help. One of my greatest wishes, as a classroom teacher, is that I might inspire children to think and do the right thing now and when they get older. I believe that this Watershed Stewart Project did just that-inspired students.

I wish to thank the Foundation for Belmont Education for providing the funding for this very, meaningful educational program for the students of the Winn Brook School.

With deep appreciation,
JeanK. Griot-Cross, grade Two teacher