Dear Paul,
I thought I would send a note telling you about my experience so far with Operation Endangered Species and the impact it has had in my classroom. What a learning experience it has been for me and the students at Lincoln School.
I teach Title 1 reading at Lincoln School. Over half our population qualifies for free and reduced lunch and this number is growing every year. A lot of our students never leave Pontiac. These students never go outside the city limits for shopping, dinner, or vacations. Traditionally, Title 1 students score below the 25th percentile in reading. As the students progress thru the grade levels, reading is required for a majority of subject areas. We often see math, science and social studies skills impacted by the reading deficits. A lot of my students struggle academically. Operation Endangered Species has given by students something the other students do not have. It is almost like a “bragging right” to be able to be involved with the turtles at Lincoln School.
Many of my students struggle relating concepts to previous experiences – they just don’t have a lot of prior knowledge. For example, the difference in farm and zoo animals and their size is hard for students to comprehend. They have never been on a farm or to the zoo. I believe this is why it was difficult at first for them to comprehend that these are not the turtles we have in Pontiac. They don’t see the species – a turtle, is a turtle, is a turtle. Previous knowledge from cartoons has also had an impact on student knowledge. The students believed (and some still do) that the turtles can pull themselves into the shell and “hide” and when their shells become too small, they will “go and get another one”. Due to budget cuts at the federal, state and local level, field trips do not occur in our district. Operation Endangered Species has allowed me to bring an experience to the students inside the classroom.
I am also seeing a difference between the comprehension of second and third graders. The second graders have a difficult time understanding that the two turtles are not going to lay eggs and have babies by the end of the year. The third grade students understand that the AST are asexual at this point and will mature sexually in the future.
The difference between fresh water and salt water and the locations of these bodies of water were also difficult concepts for my third grade students to comprehend. Having never been to the ocean, this is difficult to comprehend.
The students really enjoy looking to see where the turtles are in the tanks in during the day. They have noticed the pattern as to where they are usually found – Abe by the tree stump and MT in the corner. However, the corner by the filter is the “choice” location in the tank and both will try to be in that spot. They also enjoy the goldfish in the separate tank – of my 55 students, one has a fish tank in the home.
When we first began this adventure I really worried that there would be tears when the students found the goldfish were eaten by the turtles. This has not been the case at all. I have a group of third grade boys who like to name the goldfish, have them put in the turtle tank and come in the next day to see if “Pirate Pete” is still there or became dinner. The first time my group of second graders witnessed one of the turtles eat a goldfish it was totally silent in the room. No one said a word until I said, “Wow. That was cool.” Then one of the second grade girls said, “Put more fish in the tank. Put more fish in the tank.” That has been their goal ever since – everyone wants to see a turtle eat a fish.
We have a “Turtle Cam” hooked up so people outside the classroom can view the turtles. We have staff in the district that follows the turtles daily. There are also students who go home, log on and share with their parents. I have one student whose parents do not live together. When he goes to see his mom, he always makes sure that the Turtle Cam is working so he can log on and share with his mother. Some parents are not able or comfortable to come to school, but the Turtle Cam allows students to share classroom experiences.
I think we finally have the food situation under control. By moving to a 20 gallon tank, purchasing 20 goldfish a week, and using the smaller fish, I have been able to keep the fish alive long enough for the turtles to eat. I have noticed that the turtles are not putting weight on as quickly since moving to the smaller goldfish. What I think I will do is still purchase 20 of the smaller goldfish and 6 of the larger. I can put 4 in my tank for my two turtles and two in the tank upstairs. This has been the most challenging part. We have a student in the building with severe allergies. Many of her allergies are airborn and it is still unknown what can cause her to have a reaction. The week we had the bait fish was the week she had a reaction at school. Since switching back to goldfish, we have not had any other issues. This is something that needs to be monitored.
The third graders have completed their Power Point presentations. I have two sections of third grade and each section has designed their own slide show. Due to budge cuts, Power Point is only on staff computers. The students determined main topics that needed to be presented: description, habitat, diet, reproduction, why they are endangered, our tank, and the turtles at Lincoln School. We used articles from the internet (which lead to the discussion on reliable references) to find our information and make “Turtle Binders”. We completed webs on each topic and then used those to develop the Power Point. Each student chose an area to become an “expert” and we spent a week practicing. After we have completed state testing, they will be presenting to the other classes in the building and then to their parents during conferences. These presentations are giving my students the opportunity to share their knowledge and practice speaking in front of others. Our next step is to get on the School Board agenda to present at a board meeting.
The PTHS students have been a blessing. They have come to Lincoln to clean tanks, deliver turtles, deliver fish and answer questions. On our trip to get the turtles in Peoria, the high school students answered the student’s questions and spent a lot of time taking turtles. The elementary students love to be involved with the high school kids. Over Spring Break they are going to clean all three tanks. When the turtles first arrived, I was constantly asking them questions. They have been patient and so helpful. My students know who Alyssa and Michaela are and point them out on the banner whenever others come in to visit. The collaboration between #90 and #429 has been wonderful. I will be inviting the PTHS students to come and hear the 3rd graders present.
What I, the reading teacher, has learned:
– There is a limit to how many fish you can put in a tank – just because Petco has hundreds of fish in a tank, I cannot put 50 goldfish in a 10 gallon tank
– Dead fish can be frozen – they do not have to go directly into the turtle tank
– Do not take both turtles out of the tank and put in a Rubbermaid container – they will become upset. Drain tank into alternate source, put turtles in that, clean turtle tank and put turtles back in
– You do not need to heat the extra tank that holds fish
– All the students want to hold a turtle – help me think of a way we can do this and take pictures. This is the one think they ask for every day
– Experiment with food – they are going to get romaine lettuce this week like they did at the Peoria Zoo. Also gave them banana and they ate it.

This has truly been a learning experience for myself and the students at Lincoln School. I admit, when they practice their presentations, I tear up….such a great thing to see. I can’t wait for you to meet “T”. He is my lowest reader and absolutely loves Operation Endangered Species. He remembers so much about the turtles and can answer questions. He has taught his siblings at home about the turtles and logs into the Turtle Cam. It is so good for his self image to be one of the most knowledgeable students at #429 about AST. He is already asking to be put in Mrs. Green’s class next year at Washington since she houses the AST in that building. I truly believe this is why we do what we do – to reach those who need us the most.


Teacher, Lincoln School, Pontiac IL