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Published: Tuesday, 5/4/2010

Critters delight Maumee students at Earth Day celebration

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Maddy Nowak, 11, is at the foreground among the Earth Day dancers at Fort Miami School. Maddy Nowak, 11, is at the foreground among the Earth Day dancers at Fort Miami School.
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As an albino boa constrictor emerged from a large cardboard box, a line of youngsters jumped back nearly in unison.

"Ohmygosh!" exclaimed Justin Albright, one of hundreds of Fort Miami Elementary School students in Maumee who celebrated Earth Day with hands-on activities, such as touching and holding snakes.

"That thing is way huge. It could strangle me," the fourth-grader said, all the while inching closer to snakes, lizards, and other critters contained in boxes at an observation station set up behind the school.

Eileen Underwood, director of the Bowling Green State University Herpetarium, introduced Fort Miami students to some "pretty cool critters," including the Kenyan sand boa.

Jacob Ridenour, 9, said he signed up to visit the Herpetarium station because snakes are really interesting, adding "they can suffocate you and they can choke rats and stuff."

No child was in any danger, but many youngsters were still thrilled to spend some face time with things that slither and hiss.

More boys than girls spent time with the snakes, and Jon Stoma, a fourth-grader, wisely remarked "it's a boy thing." He added: "I have always wanted to hold one."

In addition to opportunities to hold snakes during the Earth Day celebration last week, students could make arts and craft projects, all related to the save-the-Earth theme.

Students created "Plant A Tree" and "Love the Earth" sun catchers at one station, and at another they added streaks of color to bird feeders, such as brown scallops drawn with a marker to resemble shingles. Third-grade student Joey Fritz figured that would be a nice rooftop design for the feeder he plans to perch in his yard.

The school's day-long event celebrated Earth Day "so we can keep the planet clean so there's not pollution and so people do not get sick and all that," he said.

At mid morning, several classes lined up along chalk Xs in the school's parking lot to rehearse dance moves. As a grand finale to the celebration, about 300 students participated in a mob dance later in the day. Wearing red, purple, orange, or green shirts labeled with "create, dance, celebrate," students got their groove on, and they jumped, clapped, kicked, and shouted to songs related to healing earth and making it a better place.

An Earth Day celebration is important to students because "they're going to change the world someday," said Jodi Haney, who teaches environmental education at Bowling Green State University.

Activities during the event were designed to encourage passion for the planet, she said. As students learn about the environment, and the importance of protecting and preserving it, attitudes change, and "as soon as you love something, you care for it," she said.

She also is treasurer of the Fort Miami Parent-Teacher Organization, and she and others in the group devoted many hours to prep work ahead of the event, including building 130 bird feeders. Ms. Haney's daughter Kiki is a second-grade student at Fort Miami.

Throughout the day, gusts of wind turned some things topsy-turvy at times, and because they didn't want to litter the planet, students dashed to pick up scattered pieces of paper, packets of sand, and brown paper sacks.

Students placed their hand-crafted Earth Day treasures in the sacks, some of which were decorated with rainbows and earth-friendly messages such as "reduce, reuse, recycle, repair."

At the "Backyard Detectives" station, coordinated by the Toledo Zoo, students peered through red plastic binoculars and scanned skyward for flying objects. They kept track of their sightings on a nearby board, tallying numbers and drawing pictures of robins and cardinals.

"You did a good job looking high. What about looking low," suggested Steve Oswanski, manager of Nature's Neighborhood at the Toledo Zoo. The zoo was one of several partners in the Earth Day celebration.

In addition to tracking birds and bugs, students planted mystery seeds in biodisposable newspaper containers. "They have to grow the seed to identify the suspect plant," Mr. Oswanski said. The activity not only teaches students about recycling (newspaper planters go directly into the ground at the children's homes), but also about growing and identifying plants.

Nearby, fourth-grade student Emily Rice dashed about, looking for things that fly. "I saw a robin and then I saw another bird."

Such an activity, she said, is a great way to spend time during an Earth Day event.

"It is a celebration and it is really, really fun."

But there's a serious side too, she pointed out. "I just love to help the Earth because it's a great home and it needs a lot of help."



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