Boston students raising turtles, learning STEM at the same time

BOSTON — A new program in the Boston Public Schools is bringing nature into the classroom to make science come alive for some third and fifth-graders.

Created by Zoo New England, it's called the HATCH program which stands for Hatchling and Turtle Conservation Headstarting.

Small snapping turtles are being dropped off at schools to be fostered by students. When the turtles get larger, they will be reintroduced into natural habitats.


"What's great about this program is it actually gives our turtles about a 30 percent better chance of surviving to adulthood," said Katie Quakenbush, an educational specialist with Zoo New England.

At first, the students are introduced to the turtles and taught how to handle them, so they don’t get bit.

"School children are absolutely wonderful caretakers because they have the passion we need our ambassadors to have," added Quakenbush.

Students will provide all the care for the turtles, as well as monitor their growth.

Quakenbush said measuring and weighing the turtles provides a real-life scientific lesson.  "These kids are really learning the basics of STEM here. They are learning about the metric system, and how to collect scientific data."

Students believe interacting directly with nature is a great way to learn.

"It’s more real. It’s like real life, instead of just reading a book and seeing a picture," said fifth-grader Calum Royal.

Fellow student Oon Eng-McCarthy added, "You see it with your own eyes and learn more."

Teacher Tess Milliken believes this can be a great way to engage students who might have trouble learning in traditional ways.

"It's a huge hit and a lot of students who have a hard time in school really love going and visiting the animals and caring for them and learning about them.  Being able to have that engagement in the classroom is going to be really awesome."

Zoo New England wanted to bring this program to an urban school system to help better connect those students with the environment.

They were able to do that with about $50,000 in grants from the Yawkey Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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