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Stiles’ Biology Class Works with Diamondback Turtles

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by Marisa Flores


On January 11th, 2018, members of the Maryland Environmental Service visited Science teacher Lori Stiles’ Biology classes.

Maggie Cavey and Mary Chiarella work for the Maryland Environmental Service. They participate in the Terp program which is based on teaching students about dredging, island restoration, and even letting kids work hands-on with diamondback terrapins (turtles).

WHSLionsPride: In schools, when you work with the turtles, what are you trying to get across to the students?

Cavey: “Our main focus is to really educate people on what the port is doing, involving with dredging and restoration; the turtles kind of came along after the fact. Like they started doing all this really great work at Poplar Island, and they noticed that it was a hot spot for terrapins. So they started this ‘Terrapin in the Classroom’ program, this Terp program, that focuses on allowing schools to raise terrapins in the classroom, to give them a head start in life because [the terrapins] will grow faster. Like we were talking about in the presentation, they’ll end up being the size of a two or three year-old terrapin at the end of one year; giving [the terrapins] a better survival chance. Which really came about kind of after the fact, that they were building this really great place and then they noticed these turtles were here.”


Chiarella: “The terrapins make the point oftentimes a lot better than we could; because they’re a lot more engaging, just because they’re really adorable and they’re very tiny and cute. So I think [the terrapins] make the point for Poplar being an important project and the restoration being really important and the dredging, which is what enables all of that restoration for being important, better than we could with any powerpoint and presentation. Going out and seeing Poplar is always the biggest sell; and the next best thing is bringing terrapins in that kind of represent what Poplar is and all the work that it does.”


WHSLP: And then why do you guys do this?


Cavey: “When I was in high school I really wanted to be a teacher. Then as I went through college I kind of decided that I didn’t want to be like a formal educator, I didn’t want to be the day-in day-out teacher in the classroom. I just kind of got lucky in this position. It’s perfect because I love doing teaching, I love doing environmental education, but I get to work with students of all ages. So it could be kindergarten/ pre-k classes or it could be a community college group. It could be anybody; it could be citizens groups. So I get that teaching experience, but not the greeting associated with it.”

Chiarella: “I started at an environmental education before I came to Maryland Environmental Service. I studied English and Biology, and was always really frustrated when it’d have classmates in either subject who just wouldn’t get how exciting both things were. I’d have roommates and friends who wouldn’t understand how exciting it was to do like, ‘extracting DNA’ or ‘We made e coli glow in lab today.’ So making the science accessible and exciting, and then also just like communicating people is always something I’ve been really excited about. I originally thought I wanted to do writing but then environmental education is this perfect blend of making science exciting and accessible, and bring it to people and bringing it to life. Then getting people outside and into nature, engaging them during site tours, getting them seeing wildlife, or involved in activities. So we do the in class stuff and we do that, and it’s just perfect for me.”

The class started out in groups;  learning about dredging, island reservation, Poplar Island, and little terrapins. They gave presentation based on what they read, had a class discussion on how the things they learned tied together, and then watched a short video on the reservation of Poplar Island. At the very end, the students had the opportunity to work hands-on with terrapins. They were able to hold them and learn how to identify them based on specific characteristics. The terrapins even had names that were based on the Disney movie Moana.

Sophomore Cameryn Protono said, “I really liked it and I thought it was fun. I think we should do more stuff like that in class. [The terrapins] were so cute; I loved them. But I do feel bad, because we took them out of their natural environment.”

     “I thought that it was really amazing seeing people doing all this stuff. I didn’t know anything about this until today. [I didn’t know] that they save animals and rebuilt their once lost habitats,” added sophomore Diego Hilares.

These students seem to have experienced something new; most of whom loved it. If you want more information on the work being done through the Maryland Environmental Service go to