Endangered species are getting some much needed love and attention from AP Environmental Science classes at Benton High School. Lead by their teacher, Kellie Harper, the ambitious students built an impressive array of displays featuring a variety of critically at-risk creatures to be presented for judging.
“The kids need to realize that their actions affect others,” Mrs. Harper said in regards to why she feels that this project is such an important part of each semester. “As stewards of what we have, we have to put others first. When you realize that there are all these wonderful species out there and they’re being endangered, some of them because of us, it gives them (the students) perspective and helps them to understand that this world is not about me and I’m not the center of everything.”
The students seem to have embraced this concept through their explorations. Raelee Craft is a freshman at Benton High School who participated in the fair. The endangered species she chose to study was the Red-cockaded Woodpecker.
“We learn that there are ways that we can live our own life to where we can protect these species.” Raelee said. “I’ve learned how critical these species are to the ecosystems they live in and how our activities affect them.”
Raelee said that a major contributor to her species’ endangered status is deforestation, which is common to the decline of many of the species on display.
Abigail Petermann is also a freshman, and she presented her project on the Pygmy Raccoon.
“The Pygmy Raccoon usually live in the forests and the coastal areas around the island. And, like Raelee said, a lot of their habitat loss is due to deforestation, because of agricultural or urban development.”
Mrs. Harper encourages her students to reflect on the factors leading to the endangerment of their species in hopes that they can make subtle changes in their lives that could yield a collective impact.
“If we learn to manage ourselves and discipline ourselves to not be wasteful in our general lives, then everything else will take care of itself,” she said. “There’s not a whole lot that I can do to save some African Rhino, but I can recycle and I can turn down a straw at Sonic and drink out of a cup. I can ask for paper bags instead of plastic. I can not throw my junk out on Benton Road.”
Another rare animal who got some recognition at the fair was the Andean Bear of South America, presented by Christina Summers. Christina thinks that projects like this lend to the appreciation of subject matter that might otherwise be overlooked.
“I think that doing stuff like this, to where it raises awareness, is important,” Christina explained. “I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as an Andean Bear, so I didn’t know there was a problem to begin with. And this project helped with bringing awareness to things like that and also into our own lives.”
The impact of this study for the 3 young ladies that were interviewed is impressive. Raelee’s interest in veterinary medicine for exotic animals was fueled by learning about so many vulnerable and poorly-known species. Abigail’s passion for science is leading her to consider a career in zoology, even though she is also very interested in studying psychology. Christina is an aspiring photographer who can envision capturing the images of rare and endangered species for publications like National Geographic.
Aside from learning the importance of curtailing our wasteful habits, the students also agreed that the endangered animals’ specific circumstances are too often misunderstood by the general public.
“I thought that raccoons were pests,” Abigail reflected. “That in all parts of the world, nobody likes them because they would just eat garbage. And I thought there was plenty of them! But with learning about the Pygmy Raccoon, there only about 90 left in the whole world. And to help with this particular type of raccoon would help their entire habitat, because without them, their whole habitat would fall apart.”
The reach of this project will no doubt cause changes in the behavior of the students participating as well as those they share their knowledge with. And with bright young minds like Raelee’s, Abigail’s and Christina’s in the capable and caring hands of teachers like Mrs. Harper, the future is looking optimistic: Not just for the species on the endangered list, but for our society as a whole as well.