NEW PORT RICHEY
It took a quiet classroom and a little patience before the blue-eyed hermit crab made a rather sluggish appearance. After being plucked from the comfort of its temporary tank, the crab was no doubt hesitant. But after a minute or so, a pair of orange claws emerged, bit-by-bit, as Heather Franco, coordinator of the Florida Aquarium's educational outreach program, moved closer to give students a better view. After that it was all "ooh's" and "ah's" and "that's so cool" from the first-grade students at Deer Park Elementary who had been invited to see and touch some Florida saltwater creatures close-up, on their own school campus no less.
"This is so good and very exciting for my students," said first-grade teacher Carmen Strickling. "They get to see them (creatures). They got to touch them."
After the hermit crab, students go to check out the underbelly of a horseshoe crab and learned that its barblike tail was not used for piercing anything or anyone, but rather to tip itself over, perhaps after a wave had swept the hard-shelled creature on its back.
Franco also brought along a tulip snail that peeked out of its shelled home, a slipper or shovel nose lobster with candy-corn looking legs and a brown spiky sea urchin — all native aquatic creatures these students might see on a trek to the Florida gulf beaches.
"Well, maybe not the lobster," said Franco, noting that you'd probably have to do some deep-water diving to find the arthropod that tends to camouflage itself on coral reefs, ledges and deep water caves.
The visit from the Florida Aquarium, funded by a longtime anonymous donor, was just one of the many activities held during a weeklong celebration, "Fabulous Florida: Past and Present."
The schoolwide celebration, organized by a committee led by media specialist Kristie Theurer and first-grade teacher Melissa Caruso, was the culmination of an eight-week curriculum on the state.
The celebration was perfectly timed, Theurer said. "Right before spring break — what a time to do this and focus on Florida."
Students put on skits and slideshows making good use of the school's technology. They served as docents for their own Florida Museum, featuring pioneers and Seminole Indians, pirates and theme parks, alligators and manatees and sports teams and the Flagler railroad.
Students also enjoyed presentations put on by educators from the Pasco Schools Energy and Marine Center and visits funded by the school's anonymous donor featuring author and photographer Michael Patrick O'Neill and the Museum of Science and Industry.
"He or she is very good to us," principal John Schafchuk said, noting that a generous donor has been funding special academic nights and other educational ventures since before Schafchuk became principal five years ago.
"It really makes a difference," he said. "We get to bring in special events — the teachers were able to buy props for the skits the kids did this week. It's a nice week of events that we're able to do because of that kind of generosity."
And those educational visits go a long way to enhancing education for Deer Park students, Schafchuk said, noting that it makes sense to bring the field trips to the school.
"Of course being able to go to the aquarium or the museum is ideal but I think this is great," he said. "It saves time for one thing because you don't have to load the kids on to buses to physically go there. There's no paperwork and you don't have to pay for buses. And you are able to get a whole school to see it rather than just a few classes. You're able to reach more children."