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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on November 02, 1999 at 17:20:47:
LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER (Kentucky) 29 October 99 Program lets students handle reptiles, learn about science, avoid fears later (Andy Mead)
Junction City: Timmy Phillip, 9, is standing in the cafeteria of his elementary school with a 3-foot corn snake wrapped around his neck and torso.
He has handed off two small ring-neck snakes to his buddies for a chance to hold the big guy.
He is in heaven.
"It tingles when it moves,'' he says. "Oh God, God, God.''
Timmy is surrounded by classmates in Tina Wray's fourth-grade class at Junction City Elementary School. Nearly everyone is holding a ring-neck, garter, queen, corn or hog-nose snake.
No one is afraid.
"When it comes to overcoming that phobia that people have about snakes, you've got to get to them at an early age,'' said Jeff Hohman, who brought the snakes (along with a number of frogs and salamanders) to the school yesterday.
Hohman runs East Kentucky Power Co-operative's natural resources and environmental communications department.
He's been doing this kind of thing informally since the early 1990s.
It started because he collected a few reptiles and amphibians while looking for rare and endangered species along proposed power line routes. Word got out among a few teachers that he enjoyed showing his finds to students.
Since April 1, it's been a formal program with television promotions and four people giving presentations.
There are three presentations: reptiles and amphibians, bats, and wildflowers. The audiences are mostly elementary school students, but have included older children, garden clubs and other groups.
The response has been overwhelming.
There were more than 60 presentations last month, Hohman said. They are booked through February.
Helping Hohman yesterday was Josh Young, who started with a brief talk and a slide show.
"This is what, second grade?'' he asked.
"Fourth,'' the class yelled.
He told them they would be holding frogs, salamanders and snakes and that none was harmful. What they shouldn't do, he said, was panic and throw them in the air, or jump around and accidentally step on them.
He showed slides, starting with salamanders and moving on to frogs and snakes.
You could tell the students had been studying this sort of thing.
They recognized salamander eggs and a green tree frog. They knew words such as "habitat'' and "metamorphosis.''
Then it was time to bring out the real stuff, which had been resting quietly in a red cooler.
First hands were squirted with water so the salamanders would be more comfortable. By the time everyone was holding a salamander, the noise volume in the cafeteria had risen considerably.
"No squealing,'' Hohman said. "This is a no-squealing zone.''
Frogs came next, then snakes. By then, there was little squealing.
Because the animals can't be handled for very long, Young and Hohman were soon collecting them and sticking them back into the cooler.
It was almost time for this class to go. It was the third of four Junction Elementary classes to get the presentation yesterday. There will be four more today.
Everyone was given a poster of Kentucky frogs and a frog eraser for their pencils. The local electric co-op's name was mentioned briefly.
Young delivered the final message: "You're only afraid of things you don't understand. When you grow up, are you going to kill all the snakes you see?''
"No!'' yelled the class.
"Any more questions?''
"Yes,'' said Keshia Reed, 9: "Can we hold some more snakes?''