SPRING HILL — Three tiny gopher tortoises were found wandering in the front parking lot at J.D. Floyd K-8 School of Environmental Science — not a particularly healthy place for young reptiles.
They were rescued and given to elementary science teacher Patrick Kirchman. His fifth-grade students looked after the little critters while a proper home could be found.
Enter middle school science teacher Chris Voigt. The environmental science teacher's classroom is far back on the school's campus in the woods. Her students have expanded the school's butterfly garden; hung birdhouses, nesting boxes and bat boxes; and built an outdoor classroom. Creating a tortoise habitat was right up their alley.
"We cleared the land first," said eighth-grader Bryanna Marcinek, 14, "and picked up all the debris off the ground."
"We took down trees by climbing them and pushing them down," said eighth-grader Jacob Wilson, 15.
"I don't think they want chain saws in school," noted classmate Natalya Davis, 13.
"They were dead trees," added classmate Colin Donohue, 13.
Once the area was prepared, the students set about making it attractive to tortoises.
"We had to build their home," said Bryanna.
"We planted lots of flowering plants," said Natalya. "We have some strawberry plants out there, too."
The plants were low to the ground, Bryanna explained, so they would be accessible for feeding. The students also built up a hill with a couple of tunnels in it — hopefully an appropriate home for the tortoises.
Christina Finucane, 13, mentioned some of the jobs involved in the project.
"Most of the time, we planted," she said, "and once in a while the girls would shovel the mulch."
One more group of students was involved, besides the fifth-graders, who looked after the tortoises, and the eighth-graders, who created the habitat. That was geography teacher Kevin McManus' sixth-graders. They built an observation deck, providing a quiet place for students to see the birds, reptiles and mammals that might benefit from all the students' labors.