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MI Press: Third-graders help ailing turtles through rehab

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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on January 23, 2002 at 07:55:01:

Photo: Allen Elementary third-grader Paul Lechevalier holds a turtle from the student's rehabilitation habitat. Teacher Marilyn Eggers is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator suggested the class project.(Jerry S. Mendoza)

DETROIT NEWS (Michigan) 21 January 02 Third-graders help ailing turtles through rehab
Plymouth class learns respect for creatures (Mike Murphy)
Plymouth: Ask a question about turtles in the new habitat in Marilyn Eggers' third-grade class at Allen Elementary School, and about 20 eager experts rush forward with the answer.
Melissa Jones can reel off a list of the dos and don'ts when it comes to feeding turtles, and Samantha Smith has become an expert on mating habits.
On the surface, the Turtle-Tortoise Rehab Facility is the product of one teacher's ingenuity and a $2,000 Plymouth-Canton Educational Excellence Foundation grant.
But the facility has already grown to represent more than that.
Eggers is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Her childhood included trips to a family cottage on Chippewa Lake in northern Michigan, where her father and grandfather took her "turtling."
Last year, 77 injured turtles delivered to area veterinarians or the humane society wound up at Eggers' home, where she has two rehab facilities similar to the one just built at Allen Elementary.
Eggers stocked an 80-square-foot "Turtle-Tortoise Rehab Facility" with 13 injured turtles, then sat back and watched as her pupils -- or rehabilitation assistants -- give visitors a tour.
Cody Ignagni identified each plant inside the perimeter of the chicken wire and wood fence that separated the habitat from the classroom. Puja Patel noted that there were 140 gallons of water in the habitat's pond.
Melissa Jones said the turtle pond weighed in at 1,140 pounds, and Divya Chadha explained why the lights were on in the daytime.
"They're there for the turtles to bask in," Divya explained. "They're special lights that help heal their bones."
Eggers came to Allen Elementary this school year after teaching third grade for 15 years at Plymouth-Canton's Field Elementary School. She has always found ways to bring animals into the classroom.
Animals have a soothing effect on children, she said.
Shadow, her 11-year-old Shetland sheep dog, always attends classroom parties. Eggers' pet rabbit and a parade of turtles also have visited her classroom.
"If a student is having a bad day, I say, 'Shadow might need some petting,' " Eggers said. "Interaction between a person and an animal is very calming for the person."
With the Turtle-Tortoise Rehab Facility, Eggers is taking those ideas a step farther.
"I really wanted to create a living lab for my students," Eggers said. "But I also want this to involve the whole school and the community, and I want the kids to be facilitators."
The availability of grant money allowed her to buy materials for the habitat, and the Educational Excellence Foundation, a nonprofit organization, was impressed by Eggers' far-reaching ambition to incorporate all areas of third-grade studies into the project.
"We're looking for teachers to do something creative in the classroom that supports the curriculum," said Carol Kody, the foundation's executive director. "And that project fits perfectly. It gets the kids excited."
For Eggers' students, their teacher's project became their project, too.
Beginning in December, teams of three students designed and built models of the habitat.
Using graham crackers, cereals and other foods for building materials, the third-graders bought what they needed at make-believe stores staffed by parents who came into the classroom to help the project along.
Blending third-grade social studies curriculum into the project, Eggers made it a business venture and issued the students Bugs Bunny credit cards, personal checks and play cash.
"Basically, we turned the classroom into a strip mall," Eggers said.
Each group had the $2,000, the same amount Eggers had, and the school's resource room teacher showed the third-graders how to make their own business cards on a computer.
"If you went over $2,000, the government would take your license away, and then you couldn't work anymore," third-grader Paul Lechvalier said.
Ryan Brown, a partner with a builder doing business under the licensed name of Working Waters, said calculations and budgeting for the project became a fun kind of math.
Apart from the project's relevance to the curriculum, Eggers sees the habitat as a good way to teach children respect for other creatures and their surroundings.
"I'm hoping that these kids will grow up and be environmentally educated and take care of their environment," Eggers said. "
Turtle tips
Turtles most often are injured attempting to cross roads to mate or return to habitats. Here is advice for anyone who comes across an injured turtle:
* Don't attempt to feed the turtle or put it in water. Turtles under stress often will eat anything that's handed to them, but the wrong food can compound problems. Injured turtles are fine if left out of water for 24 hours; placing them in water can cause problems, such as infections.
* Put the turtle on a clean towel and place it in a box.
* Most turtles found in the area are common painted turtles, which are harmless. If the turtle is a snapper -- usually with a black, bumpy shell and a long tail -- use anything available to push it to the side of the road without touching it.
* Take the turtle to a veterinarian or area humane society within 24 hours. Or call Friends of Wildlife at (734) 481-1812

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