Packet Sea Foam: Students embrace sea turtle activism

July 25, 2011 

Thanks to Hilton Head Island Elementary School teacher Denise Polites for sharing a story about her single-gender girls' class.

She writes:

Loggerhead turtles have a special status as our official state reptile. However, of the roughly 120 eggs a typical sea turtle lays, an estimated fewer than five hatchlings will survive the journey to the sea. Now considered threatened, loggerheads and other sea turtles need to be protected.

This notion is what spurred Hilton Head Island Elementary School fifth-grade students Miyah Shatz and Emily Wilbourne, two of my students, to become activists for sea turtle awareness.

Miyah and Emily decided to raise awareness about the threatened status of sea turtles by creating a multimedia presentation, making a sea turtle protection information card and hosting a sale of handmade items.

Their project was part of Hilton Head Island Elementary School's "Exhibition," an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme requisite in which fifth-grade students research and design collaborative inquiry projects under the supervision of their teachers. The Exhibition component of the I.B. program expects students to combine the qualities of the I.B. Learner Profile, which requires students to be principled, open-minded and caring, among many other characteristics. Often, projects foster ecological awareness or focus on community service.

With the money raised from their project, Miyah and Emily adopted four sea turtle nests through the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn in the name of Hilton Head Island Elementary School.

These students are now the "protectors" of the following nests: Nest one is No. 88, which was laid June 7, just south of beach mile marker 82 in Palmetto Dunes; nest two is No. 102, laid June 9, south of mile marker 9 in south Sea Pines; nest three is No. 103, laid June 9, just south of beach mile marker 101 in Driessen Beach; and nest four is No. 104, laid June 9, north of mile marker 125 in Port Royal Plantation.

Hilton Head Island Elementary School invites the community to monitor the progress of these nests. Just remember, looking is fine, but if you see a nest or a hatchling on the beach, please do not touch.

One of the main components of the International Baccalaureate's Exhibition project is sharing the results of our inquiry with the community. Student groups reported the positive results of their activism, which included turtle adoption, beach cleanups and support for the Hilton Head Humane Association, at the conclusion of their projects.

In fact, state Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort honored the school with a visit to view Exhibition projects and collect a petition to ban the mass release of balloons, which endangers turtles that swallow deflated balloons due to their resemblance to jellyfish. This petition was created by students Olivia Gary, Ariel Shatz, Victoria Hamlin, Harper Forester-Py and Sandy Phillips. Although it is difficult to predict whether this petition will lead to a change in legislation, it was truly special to have a state senator listen to our voices and offer feedback on our efforts.

The International Baccalaureate program at Hilton Head Island Elementary School empowers students with the belief that no matter our age, we can make a difference to the human and animal populations of our coastal community.

This activism is present not just in my classroom: More than 140 students in seven classrooms participated in Exhibition, with each student interpreting the project in a unique way.

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