I had enough to worry about in my first year of teaching. Creating curriculum, honing in my personal teaching philosophy, drafting parent emails, making about a million split decisions in the matter of a morning. Then, a mere twelve hours before it would all begin, the turtles were wheeled in. Yes, turtles. Part of the school’s curriculum dictated that the third grade would be head starting two Blanding’s turtles throughout their first year of life. So, not only would I be responsible for keeping the twenty children in my room breathing, but now I had these two yellow-bellied animals to nurture as well! When I say I was diligent about keeping these turtles alive, I mean I was DILIGENT. And, as is my way, I set out to learn absolutely everything there was to know about why schools participate in Head Start programs. Snack attack takes on a whole new meaning that without that first year of care in a contained set up, these turtles would have been an easy target to predators. This, paired with frequent roadside hazards and inadequate wetland environments, don’t exactly give the turtles a fighting chance. My students were wholeheartedly dedicated to filling up the tummies of Avocado and Messi (don’t ask), and tracked their growth with the care and attention of a Momma turtle. The day we returned them to the wild… I’m not crying, you’re crying.
I learned a valuable lesson that year, particularly in the wake of this year’s Earth Day. This is hardly groundbreaking, but introduction to conservation and care for our planet starts with these small, quantifiable actions. When children see the direct impact of their work, it allows the more intangible, big world measures to get smaller and feel more possible. Our future generation wants to help, but simply telling them of our climate crisis or shocking their systems with our red hot planet talk will not do it. Speaking purely for myself, I don’t believe it works for adults either. We all want to help, and since our scientists tell us that we are at a critical time for recognition and change, it can’t be at a turtle’s pace!
Middle grade readers will flock to Stella Díaz Never Gives Up, a middle grade delight as eager Stella takes small measures in her community to help preserve the ocean floor. One Plastic Bag is an inspiring and true picture book that shares how a group of women used their creative prowess to mitigate the plastic bag pollution in Africa. Cast Away, by Naomi Shihab Nye (sorry, not Tom Hanks), is a beautiful collection of poetry verses that equates picking up trash to a sanctimonious experience necessary for all YA changemakers. Finally, adults likely steer towards Barbara Kingsolver at the mere idea of conservation, yet in Animal, Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life, she focuses on her yearlong challenge to solely eat locally sourced produce – talk about small but mighty!