Though much of our conservation work takes place out in the field, we also spend time in classrooms around the region teaching children more about marine life. Terrapins in the Classroom is one of our most successful classroom programs because is combines animal care, research, and field work. The students have face-to-face interactions with baby diamondback terrapins in an effort to foster respect and stewardship for the Chesapeake Bay.
Hatchling terrapins are collected from Poplar Island as a part of a research study and distributed to teachers throughout Baltimore City and the surrounding counties. Students care for the terrapins and collect data on their growth, and at the end of the school year they have the opportunity to go on a field trip to Poplar Island to release the terrapins into their natural marsh habitat. Research scientists are hoping to prove that this program is mutually beneficial; the children make strong connections with the terrapins and are thus driven to keep the bay they live in clean, and terrapins get a “head start” with a safe place to grow throughout their first winter. When they are released in the summer, they tend to be notably larger than a wild terrapin of the same age.
Thirty schools are participating in this program, and it is safe to say that all of the students who even have a passing interaction with the terrapins will find a new purpose in cherishing the Chesapeake.
The following story has been passed along by Bob Keddell, the teacher who was responsible for a terrapin at Lime Kiln Middle School in Howard County:
We are a middle school that is connected directly to the Cedar Lane School for multiply handicapped students who cannot attend regular classroom settings. Last year, Yurtle became the talk of the school among first the students who were responsible for his care, but also for the entire sixth grade who participate in a variety of Chesapeake Bay learning experiences, and most significantly to a number of Cedar Lane students. Yurtle was “personality plus” and as the word spread, the teachers of Cedar Lane began to bring some of their students over to the middle school to see and “speak” to the turtle. “Speak” is in quotes because for three students who do not communicate through speaking, the turtle became the catalyst for the teachers to urge their students to communicate. Every day, their morning walk included stopping by the turtle tank and seeing the turtle. What is extraordinary is that 2 out of the 3 youngsters began to say “turtle” in their own way, and a barrier was broken. Did Yurtle change lives? That cannot be assessed; what can be said is our diamondback terrapin became such an intricate part of the school culture that we had to defy the student and the secretaries’ petition to stop the release. We held up the DNR license and threatened them with the law.