Meet Lenito, Lenetia Lenore, Kobron
Meet Lenito, Lenetia Lenore, and Kobron. These little shell turtle souvenirs from Topsail are the avatars of Lennie, the Kemps ridley turtle who is a permanent resident of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hopital on the island. Our classroom mascot, Lennie was rescued by and named for a fisherman after Lennie had been badly injured by some other fisherman who had beaten him blind.
I had begun this school year by showing my classes my homemade video of a loggerhead turtle hatchling's making his way to the ocean from his nest on North Topsail Beach in North Carolina. I had asked my students to consider how they are like the turtle. They connected instantly. The turtle is small; the ocean is big. People can help the turtle get safely to water, but they can't swim for him. Nor can they guarantee his survival. The dangers are big and the work is hard and you're on your own. And the world can be cruel.
And, Miss. Those waves are big.
After I showed them the video, I introduced them to Lennie. When I told them how he had been blinded and how his blindness consigned him to life in a large bucket at the hospital, the kids said, "I hate fishermen." Meaning they hate random cruelty. Meaning they get it.
And then I made a contribution to the turtle hospital for Lennie's food and his care. If you care, you do something. I wanted my students to see that caring is doing. In appreciation, the hospital sent me a stuffed animal version of Lennie. For months now, the soft toy has made the rounds in my classroom. Students take turns keeping him with them for the day; my students oversee this sharing; I have nothing to say about who has him when. I have watched Lennie being held, cuddled, (surreptitiously) kissed, and often hidden.
After Christmas, I decided to take a different direction with my classes' behavior chart with the smiley stickers that represent a day of classwide good behavior. Formerly, I had promised the kids cookies or some other treat if they could fill 95 percent of the chart in a month. I bought a lot of cookies, and it was worth it.
Last week, I suggested that for every smiley face sticker the kids earn, I will give a dollar to the hospital for Lennie's care.
"That's a lot of dollars, Miss," one of the boys remarked. Music to my ears. Lots of dollars means lots of good behavior. Lots of good behavior means potentially lots of learning. I'm in.
Not one kid asked about the cookies.
Next, I introduced the shell turtles to the good-behavior-save-the-turtles-learn-to-read dynamic. I suggested to each class that I release one turtle into the classroom and that they take turns caring for it. We will see which class can keep him going the longest.
Right away, one boy asked, "What if a flipper breaks off or something? Are we out?"
No. Because you can take him to the hospital. You're out only when you stop caring.
I had the kids put their names in a raffle so the whole thing would be both fair and random. Some of the gentlest kids were the Lennies' first guardians. Right away, the kids started renaming the shell critters--Lenito (Little Lennie), Lentia Lenore (a dressed up female version of Lennie and the collaboration of two boys), and Kobron (somewhere between Kobe and Lebron).
Kobron had a near-death experience in math class, when someone almost stepped on him. Lenito is spending the week on one boy's bedroom shelf because his mother thinks he's adorable and can't bear to part with him. Lenetia Lenore is in the care of my worst nightmare--who happens to be the boy who gave her the Lenetia part of the name and who weasled her out of the hands of the boy she started with because he just wanted to care for her.
When one of the boy's heard about Kobron's experience, he informed the caretaker of the day, "That better not happen again, or I'll drop you so hard...."
More music. Because it isn't about $2 varnished sea shells glued into the shape of sea turtles so much as it's about caring for themselves and seeing that their success is bound up in each other and the choices they make and what they do. They're paying attention to the world around them and how it affects this vulnerable little thing--call it the turtle or call it their tender young souls. They're caring. They know their worth it. They know those waves are big, but we can take them on together.
We love you, Lennie.