NEW PORT RICHEY — Andrew Maras enjoys birds — but typically at a distance. So the 14-year-old was taken aback when a scarlet macaw named Ginger started making her way toward him, moving from arm to arm, shoulder to shoulder through a sea of students before planting herself squarely on Andrew's shoulder, pirate style.
"It was really cool," the Seven Springs Middle eighth-grader said Thursday morning, after Ginger moved on to someone else. "I was really surprised."
Inside an adjacent classroom, Matt Parachini, 14, snapped pictures of a couple of playful, caged cats brought in by representatives of Countless Cat Rescue Inc., who shared with students the importance of spaying animals. Others cavorted with Howlistic Therapy dogs, such as Bentley, a 2-year-old Sheltie with an amiable nature, and Harry, a mixed breed that was found tied to a donation bin outside a Publix supermarket.
This was a different kind of meet and greet; the culmination of a week-long Earth Day celebration at Seven Springs Middle School that featured a variety of earth-friendly activities for students and faculty.
"The goal was to get lots of participation," said drama and Lead the Pack teacher Cindy Tehan, who spearheaded the effort with Learn and Serve teacher Dorothy Taylor.
There was a campus nature walk led by science teachers in which students identified 23 different native bird species and got a close-up look at turtles while learning about their natural habitats.
Students signed pledges to be earth-friendly and celebrated the cleanup of the school's Jagwater Pond. Jeannie Hayes, from the Pasco County Extension Service, came to talk with students about water conservation.
Arts classes pitched in, offering a digital nature slide show. There were performances by members of the school chorus and the band, too, that roused students with a crowd pleasing rendition of the Black Eyed Peas' I've Got a Feeling and a medley of patriotic songs.
Drama students got into the mix, putting on a black-light presentation of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, a children's book that comes with a grown-up environmental warning about deforestation and pollution and general disregard for the health of the planet.
Six different animal rescue groups also came to school, invited by students in Taylor's and Tehan's service learning classes.
"We wanted to do something to help the animals," said Haley Shinn, 14. "Because when you go out you always see at least one stray animal and everyone has pets."
The overall project was important one for students, said Tehan, who in 1973 helped organize an Earth Day celebration when she was a student at the University of Dayton. "They are the ones who will be inheriting this Earth and if they want it to be there for their children and their grandchildren, then they have to be aware and they need to take care of all of it: the air, the water, the trees, the animals."
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.