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
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.
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
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