Published on June 18, 2022

Turtle Fundraising Project Teaches Second Graders the Value of Learning

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Like most kids, students at the Forestdale Elementary School in Sandwich are crazy about turtles. But they've also had the opportunity of hands-on experience with turtle conservation. As part of a headstarting program with the town of Barnstable, the kids spent a year feeding and caring for baby diamondback terrapins, a threatened salt marsh species in Massachusetts. By late spring, when it was time to return to the wild, the little turtles were much bigger than others their age, giving them a leg up in the world.

“The hatchlings were in aquariums in the classroom,” says second grade teacher Joanne Saunders. “The kids could feed them every day and watch them whenever they got up to sharpen their pencils.”

Turtles Lead to Business

So, when it came time to teach their nine second grade classes a unit about economics and the concept of exchanging goods and services, the teachers had an idea: why not combine the students’ turtle enthusiasm with teaching business basics?

The result was the Terrapin Cove Gift Shop, a three-day effort that taught students a variety of business skills and turtle ecology. “The second graders were the producers of the goods—turtle crafts. The kindergartners and first graders were the consumers,” Joanne says.

There were many jobs to perform. Some students worked the cash register, others did the bagging (including thank-you notes with purchased gifts), and another group served as the sales force (“Wouldn’t you love a turtle bracelet or a painted rock?”).

The Terrapin Cove gift shop also displayed posters made by the kids that combined a sales pitch for the shop with a fact about terrapin ecology.

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“What was clear to me was how impassioned the kids were about wanting to help turtles and teach others about them,” Joanne says. “Watching the older students bend down to engage at eye level with younger kids and ask, ‘Do you know what a predator is?’ Or, ‘Do you know what the word brackish means?’… we loved it!”

A Lesson about Learning

For only three days of operation, the Terrapin Cove gift shop was a business success: the kids raised $460! The funds will be presented to Mass Audubon to benefit turtle conservation.

But Joanne says the most important lesson from the exercise was showing students that learning something doesn’t mean just completing an assignment and putting it behind you.

“I think the kids discovered that the best thing about learning new things is being able to teach others; that when you learn something, the process is really just starting.”

 

Note: Terrapin Cove is a real place! It’s a parcel of unspoiled marsh upland in Eastham protected in 2015 through a partnership with the town of Eastham, The Eastham Conservation Foundation, and Mass Audubon to provide nesting habitat to the area’s rebounding diamondback terrapin population.