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Students get green, scaly lesson at Teach-In

More than the three R's were taught in Pinellas classrooms Wednesday.

A pet green iguana livened up a school in Clearwater, chain saws and beaten garbage pails jazzed up a school in Largo and the intricacies of embalming spiced up a school in St. Petersburg.

It was all part of the Great American Teach-In, which celebrates American Education Week. The Teach-In is the monster of all career days, but it's also a day when parents and schools show how they're working together to educate children.

"Those experiences give them an opportunity to expand their world," said Kathleen Woolums, assistant principal at Plumb Elementary School. "And it builds on that idea that it's a partnership we're in, and we're very fortunate that many of our parents are good partners with us."

Last year more than 5,200 people participated in Pinellas County Schools' Teach-in, and the event has become so popular that several schools work year-round to recruit volunteers.

At Plumb, Suzanne Claessens taught students about pet care and let them hold her green iguana. And musicians Emilly Parsons and Kimberly Pearce serenaded students during several classes.

More than 60 volunteers visited both Ridgecrest and Plumb elementaries.

At Ridgecrest Elementary School, the physical education class was clapping along with Lisa Marie Barillaro as Spike Hagood blasted a rubber garbage pail with wooden sticks.

"Wew" pa-ta-pa-ta "Hey," yelled out the members of Conquest motivational group, as they pounded away their message.

Conquest, a group that mixes humor and percussion with character lessons, was one of thousands of presentations Wednesday for the Ninth Annual Great American Teach-In.

"We're talking about getting along, listening to teachers and parents and growing up to be important people," said Sandie Harris, site director for the group.

Jeffrey Fredrickson, executive chef of TradeWinds Island Resort and parent of a fifth-grader, was one of several popular Ridgecrest visitors.

In half an hour, he hacked away at a 350-pound hunk of ice with chisels and a chain saw and transformed it into a detailed sculpture of a marlin, a fish with a long body and pointy bill.

"Whoooa," the kids yelled as ice shavings sprayed them. They seemed just as fascinated by the huge slabs of ice Fredrickson let them play with as they were with the sculpture.

"It's neat. The shapes, the ice. It looks like snow," said second-grader Jessy Gearhart, 7.

Throughout the county, some of the Teach-in lessons were light and fun and others were more concrete, and custom-tailored to curriculums. At Boca Ciega High School, students in the medical magnet program learned about embalming from Veranda Jackson, who works for Smith Funeral Home, and learned about identifying bodies from dental records, from Dr. Barry Lipton a Largo dentist and forensic odontologist.

Lipton, who was stationed near the World Trade Center after the attacks last year, shared numerous stories including how he worked for 18 hours a day for two weeks to identify victims.

The lessons varied from campus to campus, but countywide the Teach-in provided students with knowledge that stretches beyond the classroom walls, Woolums said.

"They pick up all kinds of information and, of course hands-on and practical experiences, and much of that stays with them much longer than reading a book," said Woolums. "And they may see something during that 30- to 45-minute presentation that they connect with."

_ Lorri Helfand can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or at