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School & Youth
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SPES Students Raise And Release Maryland Terrapins As Green School Project

Dylan Roche
View Bio
May 30, 2012

By Meredith Thompson

When coin-sized baby Maryland terrapins are born on Poplar Island and other parts of the Chesapeake Bay shoreline each fall, they often hibernate during winter, emerge small, and get eaten by birds.

As part of their green school initiatives, students at Severna Park Elementary and numerous other area schools have been working to preserve the state reptile, which is not yet endangered but is declining in population.

In October, SPES took in six newborn turtles to raise them in a favorable environment before releasing them in May. “When we got the terrapins, they were about the size of a quarter – they were really little, and so cute,” said Laurie Levitt, library media specialist at SPES. “They were the size of a hamburger when we let them go.”

Through the Terrapin Connection program hosted by Arlington Echo, students were able to raise the turtles – three in a kindergarten classroom and three in the library – while learning about the environment.

Levitt explained that she used the terrapins to facilitate environmental research, teaching students about turtle habitats, care, feeding and the bay. “At the end of the year, kindergarten brought in bugs and worms for the turtles as their homework, and we let the kids feed them the bugs,” Levitt added.

A week after Sue Woelpper’s kindergarten class released their terrapins, Levitt’s top fourth- and fifth-grade readers went on a field trip to Poplar Island to release the growing turtles into their natural environment on May 18.

The 1,140-acre island, located slightly northwest of Tilghman Island in the Chesapeake Bay, is a reclaimed island built from material dredged out of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and serves solely as a habitat for dozens of species.

“The kids learned about erosion, and how the island disappeared,” Levitt explained of the outing. “They tested the water for oxygen, went on a walk through wetlands, and learned about all the different plants.”

In addition to helping the Maryland terrapin survive as a species, several SPES classes recently raised and planted bay grasses along a Severna Park beach to provide oxygen for animals and improve water quality.

“We’ve been a green school since the early 90s; we continually look for ways to recycle, compost and teach kids about the environment,” Levitt said, highlighting that SPES is one of the county’s longest-standing green schools.

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