Nurturing Terrapins – and Compassionate Leaders

By KAREN REUTHER | Mar 06, 2019
Courtesy of: Karen Reuther ‘Art Smart’ group students at Normandy Park School in Morristown create terrapin artwork for a calendar fundraising project. All proceeds will go to the Terrapin Nesting Project.

Five years ago, I began spending my summers in High Bar Harbor and became curious when I saw plastic pails in laundry baskets along the roadways. I subsequently learned that they were part of a larger effort to save the diamondback terrapins.

As my time in High Bar increased, I would occasionally see a mother turtle crossing the road, digging a nest or scurrying back to the bay, and from time to time, I would see the babies making their perilous journeys, too. Sadly, I sometimes saw the remains of mothers and babies that had been hit by cars. On a happier note, I saw a few homes whose yards had been transformed into a safe haven for nests. I learned that Kathy Lacey had started the Terrapin Nesting Project and was making a big difference in the turtles’ survival rates.

As a second- and third-grade teacher in North Jersey, I decided to share what I had seen and learned with my colleagues. Each of them enthusiastically agreed to teach the students about Kathy Lacey’s initiative to save these four-legged friends. The Morris Educational Foundation sponsored Normandy Park School’s theme this year, “It’s Cool to Be Kind,” which inspired us all to put ourselves in another’s “shell” and to do something.

Although we live 100 miles from LBI, the students got to see a mother and several hatchlings up close and personal when Kathy Lacey visited our school in January. It was so exciting, and the students were inspired and eager to help. During the six weeks that followed her visit, students divided into groups based on Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and did projects or activities to learn more.

I am so proud to work with the teachers of Normandy Park School. Vivienne, a student in Cherie Smith’s class, told me that she thought it was fun and interesting to study terrapins. Leo, another student, said he became curious about how the little terrapins could get to the bay. As a teacher, it’s always heartwarming to see young people curious and having fun.

Ana Ortiz was very creative, and her bilingual students learned about the turtles and so much vocabulary as they compared them to other sea turtles, noticed and drew patterns and even played turtle tag. Their compassion was clear when Arianny said, “It’s important to help the turtles.” LeiHan Hong’s group also made the connection between our school-wide kindness theme and the work that “the turtle lady” is doing.

Students told me that saving terrapins is kind. Michelle Parks and Joelle Diana’s Math Smart group know that terrapins are worth saving. Not only did they tell me that the turtles help the bay, but they discovered that these little creatures are full of surprises. Tristan learned that the temperature of the eggs determines if the turtle is a male or a female.

The students in my group performed a play that taught the lesson “think before you speak.” Group members said they believe people should also think before they act and take better care of terrapins. They want everyone to know that even if you don’t live on LBI, you can still help by making sure others know about these special creatures and how to save them.

The “Art Smart” Group, led by Cathy Polcaro, learned how to draw terrapins. About the experience, Samir said people should save these terrapins because they’re cute. He's right, but I think the drawings the students made are so cute, too. These drawings are going to be made into calendars that will be for sale. The children hope that the calendar project will raise money and awareness about this special species.

I was touched to hear that Nicole Rosso’s students felt inspired to write different types of poetry, including Haiku and acrostics like these:

Save the Diamondback

Terrapins are important

Protect and Preserve


T Terrapins are endangered

U Unbearable to watch more terrapins disappear

R Restore the terrapins in LBI

T Territory is being destroyed

L Live on the eastern coast

E Eggs are laid in the same location year after year

Probably the best lesson students have shared with me is their understanding that one individual can make a difference and inspire others. The students at Normandy Park know that “Miss Kathy” is an animal protector and much more. They told me she teaches us to be leaders and to make a difference. The Terrapin Nesting Project is growing the population of terrapins and inspiring compassionate young leaders, too.

Karen Reuther has been a teacher in New Jersey’s Morris School District for over 20 years. She is a beach lover and part-time resident of High Bar Harbor.





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