When the Saint Louis Zoo asks to partner on a research project, there’s only one right answer: Yes!
Principia School is embarking on its seventh year as a partner in the St. Louis Box Turtle Project, a study dedicated to the conservation and health of the three-toed box turtle. Principia’s role is to track the movement of the native species in a suburban environment, using the School’s 360-acre campus as a testing ground. While Principia’s part in the study may seem small, the data plays a big role in the Zoo’s turtle conservation program, and Principia students have had a direct hand in the process.
From turtle selection to tracking and data collection, students are involved at every stage. “It’s real citizen science,” said Outdoor Education Coordinator Doug Hoff. “We’re not just putting something up on the screen and talking about it. We’re out there doing the science and collecting the data. [The students] aren’t ‘acting like’ real scientists. They are real scientists, collecting data in real ways that the Zoo then uses. “
Principia is currently tracking four turtles: Dino, Star, Rootoo, and Scute (pronounced Scoot) and named after the plates on a turtle’s shell). And while it’s primarily Upper School students handling the turtle selection and data collection, younger students get in on the fun too.
Dovetailing beautifully with the Early Learning Center’s Reggio Emilia program, which encourages students to engage with nature in meaningful ways, the turtle tracking program invites young children to explore nature’s scientific side. With the help of Doug Hoff, ELC students learn how to locate the turtles, handle them in safe and considerate ways, and make scientific observations about our terrestrial friends.
“If we want [students] to care about the environment, they need to have personal, intimate experiences [with nature],” said Hoff. “Being out there holding turtles, collecting data that’s going to ultimately help the turtles, is a great way to connect them to nature.”
“This campus is a gift,” continued Hoff. We’ve got this extensive laboratory out there. Anytime we can get up and use it makes it so real for the kids. We want it to be authentic and not just theoretical.”
Read more about ELC’s Reggio Emilia program on the Principia Purpose website.