Talking turtles at Westport Middle School

Standard Times

Science is coming out of its shell at the Westport Middle School, thanks to a $2,000 grant from the Helen E. Ellis Charitable Trust.

In the 2008-09 academic year, all seventh and eighth grade students will be taking part in a Diamondback Terrapin Science Program, through the Lloyd Center for the Environment.

In April 2005, a baby Diamondback Terrapin, food, tank and tank accessories were “installed” in the seventh and eighth grade science teacher’s room at the middle school. The students fed and cared for the terrapin, and closely observed a wild “threatened species” rarely seen in nature.

Subsequently, the program has expanded to all the seventh and eighth grade science classrooms, available for study by several hundred students. The Lloyd Center provides the tanks, tank accessories (UV lights, filters, heat lamps, turtle platform heaters), food, and five terrapins, as well as the tank set-up, teacher training and ongoing teacher mentoring. The turtles are collected and housed by the center for all extended vacations.

Students take daily readings of the air and water temperatures in the tank, monitor the food consumption of the turtle, and take weekly measurements of its growth. Such hands-on observations, and data gathering, recording and analysis are key to the development of a student’s scientific understanding and competence, school officials said.

Along with promulgating a threatened species, the program provides lifelong lessons in skillful scientific observation & data collection, and inspires “scientific” interest and excitement in the students.

The success of this program has led to its expansion to the Hastings Middle School in Fairhaven.

The Helen E. Ellis Charitable Trust provides funding for the Westport Arts Council to make awards for projects that benefit Westport residents. Helen Ellis, an artist and a dedicated educator, was a resident of Westport for over 50 years. Her naturalistic woodcarvings were displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After she died, the proceeds of her estate were used to establish the charitable trust.