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PROVIDING SAFE PASSAGE

These students, and their Lead the Pack classmates at Seven Springs Middle School, got the attention of state Sen. Mike Fasano to help protect these birds ... with crossing signs, perhaps like this.

Matt Nuzzo had a thought. Lucky for him, he's in a position to try to do something about it. Maybe even get a senator to pay attention. ¶ For a while now, Matt, who's an eighth-grade student at Seven Springs Middle School, has been concerned about the sandhill cranes he has seen roaming the campus and along medians and the sides of busy roads. ¶ "It bothers me when I see sandhill cranes on the road, dead or alive," he said. "They have a crimson head and a gray body and that makes them blend in with the pavement, so when people are driving and see them - it's too late."

Matt did some research and discovered that come this time of year, the population grows quite a bit with the migration of sandhill cranes from the Great Lakes area.

He also discovered why at times, the cranes are slow movers, which sadly often leads to their demise.

"Sandhill crane babies don't fly till they are about 10 weeks old," Matt explained. "The adults refuse to fly till their babies can. So when people see them in the road, they think they'll fly out of the way, but they don't."

Matt had seen deer crossing signs along the roads in the local area. Why, he thought, couldn't they do the same for the sandhill cranes?

Matt is one of 23 kids in the school's Lead the Pack service program led by teacher Cindy Tehan. That could be a way to get things moving, he thought.

Funded by a $9,000 Florida Learn and Serve Grant, Lead the Pack is a class that blends specific learning objectives with hands-on service projects. The class, now in its second year at Seven Springs Middle, was recently selected by the state as the "Best Practice Site."

Students in Lead the Pack oversee a range of community service projects brought to them by students and teachers. They review grant proposals, approve funding, track and record progress for reaching projects such as collecting animal supplies for "SPCA: Help is on the Way!" and helping with Social Inc., which offers extracurricular inclusion activities to autistic students.

Matt proposed his idea for installing sandhill crane signs on Pasco roads to fellow Lead the Pack students and they approved the project. His friend and classmate, Jake Ponce de Leon, joined as co-leader and historian.

Then the calls went out. Matt and Jake tried to enlist help from the Florida Department of Transportation, a realty company in Michigan that featured the sandhill crane crossing signs in pictures on its Web site and state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

"No one responded except Sen. Fasano," said Matt. "He called the school. He came and talked to the class about government and how politics worked." And because Matt's sign proposal was for county rather than state roads, Fasano offered to forward Matt's letter to County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand.

"What a great class - how impressive," Fasano said after his visit. "I think it's super and I wish we could see that happen in a lot more of our younger classes, if you will, and teach them that by being involved it goes a long way."

So far, Matt has not heard back from Hildebrand or anyone else from the county.

Still, Matt is hoping that getting the word out will bring some results. "Not everyone will listen to kids like us," he said. "But maybe someone with power like Sen. Fasano, they would listen to."

For now Matt and Jake would like to see signs installed on Little Road, Trinity Boulevard and Robert Trent Jones Parkway in the Fox Hollow subdivision.

"Maybe we can even put them (signs) in other areas, too, and across the state," Jake said. "That way it will go on for other generations so our kids and their kids can see the birds - not just us."

Michele Miller can be reached at miller@sptimes.com or at (727) 869-6251 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6251.

Fast facts: sandhill cranes

Height: 3 to 4 feet

Wingspan: about 7 feet

Weight: 7 to 10 pounds

- Does not breed until it is 2 to 7 years old. Can live up to age 20.

- Mated pairs stay together year-round, and migrate south as a group with their offspring.

- In summer, it breeds across Alaska and Canada, eastward to western Quebec, and southward to the northern United States. In winter, it travels to the southern United States and northern Mexico.

Some live year-round in Florida and Cuba.

All About Birds: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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