We trekked through the back of the school until we reached the wooden staircase that leads over the fence surrounding our property. We explored through the thick woods of Greenbelt Park without any trail to follow. We filled our bags with glass bottles, disintegrating paper, pieces of rubber tires, old roof shingles, tire scraps, and all kinds of other crazy stuff that has no place in the woods.
As we rounded a bend, on 6th grade girl yelled, "Oh! A turtle! I almost stepped on it!" We gathered around, taking turns passing her around.
"She's so brave!" a 7th grade girl declared.
"Why do you say that?" I asked.
"Because she's not even trying to go into her shell. She's wiggling all around and looking at us and letting us pass her around and touch her. She's not scared at all."
They begged me to keep her as our class pet. I know that she would be best left in the wild, but I considered keeping her as a pet so the students could bond with her. I know the calming effect of animals, and I haven't had a class pet since our guinea pig, Cashew, died four years ago. "Maybe," I conceded. Let's take him inside with us and I'll think about it."
Well, "I'll think about it" obviously means "yes" in kid language. Everyone knows that. So they immediately named her Claudia Alexis Anne Elizabeth Zopplehauffer and began discussing where she would be kept and who would go to the pet store to buy her supplies after school.
After doing a bit of research, I found out that this is mating season, which means this girl may have eggs in her body or even in a nest out back. I decided that we'd keep her in the terrarium in our room for the rest of the day, but I'd return her to exactly where we found her after school. Thankfully, they all understood.
Before saying goodbye, I gathered the students around. "Many Native American cultures believe that we can learn all we need to know about life from watching the animals. They believe that animals each have different characteristics, and so can teach us different lessons about life."
The students were silent as they watched Claudia Alexis Anne Elizabeth Zopplehauffer dart her red, beady eyes around the circle. She slowly reached out her scaly legs and scratched against the glass.
"So," I continued, "What lessons do you think we can learn from Claudia?"
Immediately, hands darted up all around the circle. This is what they said:
- Be patient.
- It's ok to move slowly sometimes. There is no rush in life.
- It can be nice to be silent and still.
- Be brave; come out of your shell.
- Be cautious.
- Don't scratch the glass. It won't get you anywhere.