May 17, 2005

Coming out of their shells

By Kim McCoy Vann

It all started with an article in a community newspaper, Apalachee Tortoise. When students at Cornerstone Learning Community read about a project that would help wildlife safely cross a busy street, they were spurred to action.

The students want money for the Lake Jackson Ecopassage, an underpass that would help wildlife cross U.S. 27 North. On May 23, the Capital Region Transportation Planning Agency will vote on whether the project should receive $3.5 million in federal funds.

Students at the private school think the decision is obvious. They've visited the site where ecopassage advocate Matt Aresco has safely moved turtles and other wildlife across the road for the past five years. He would have less work to do if the underpass money comes through.

The students have expressed their support by writing letters to Leon County commissioners and letters to the editor in the Tallahassee Democrat.

"It's a lesson in communication, dialogue, science, civic action and the power of being involved," fourth-grade teacher Jason Flom said. "They started to understand how humans and nature interact."

On Monday, about 50 students in third through eighth grade held a rally in front of the Leon County Courthouse. They carried handmade signs and cheered when drivers honked in support.

Seventh-grader Shelby McKay'ssign said: "Got money? Save the turtles."

"The turtles might become endangered since they are getting killed on the highways," Shelby said. "They can also hurt people. If you get in a car crash ... when the tire hits the turtle, it could fly through the window."

Fourth-grader Bethany Thomas said people and wildlife have something in common.

"It's important to me because I don't like animals dying - more than 1,000 each year," she said. "We're also animals. They're sharing the habitat with us."

Fourth-grader Phoebe Scott agreed.

"We need to be kind and respect animals we're sharing the earth with," she said.

County Commissioner Bob Rackleff, who said he supports the ecopassage, stopped by the rally. And so did Aresco, who said he appreciates the students' efforts.

"They understand why it's an important project for the community, and they are here demonstrating that," Aresco said of the students.