Better known as Jon Hentz, the officer for the “Sea Animal Life for Tomorrow’s Youth” program, will visit fourthgraders at the Bath school six times over the next couple of months, relating the importance of protecting and conserving marine resources.
Along the way, there are bound to be some “yewww” moments.
Such was the case Tuesday morning, when Hentz — municipal shellfish warden for Georgetown, Arrowsic, Wiscasset and Woolwich — cut open a large clam and placed it on a student’s desk for dissection. Once they got over their initial disgust, the students learned.
“They get an idea of how the bivalves eat and how they take oxygen out of the water and how they live and how they grow, and everything,” Hentz said. “Today’s highlight will be looking for pearls in blue mussels.”
Ronnie Kamphausen, a naturalist from Phippsburg, and Becky Kolak, a biologist from Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, have been working with Hentz teaching students about the various species living in the Gulf of Maine, their anatomical features and behaviors.
With a big assist from Bath Iron Works volunteers, the students also are helping teachers maintain the tank, which is up and running in the lobby outside the school office. BIW volunteers have turned in more than 100 hours into the aquarium and project, Hentz said.
“These people have put in some tremendous hours,” he said.
Fisher-Mitchell School Principal Nancy Harriman also is doing her part, hauling in gallons of fresh salt water every day. As students walked into the school for classes Tuesday, several fascinated ones stopped by the tank to look.
Clams and other shellfish abounded, but they had to look for the rockfish and perch, which were hiding.
“Oh, look,” one girl said, “the little fishies!”
Delyse Conley, the office secretary, sees the same reaction daily, now that the aquarium has been set back up.
“They love this,” Conley said. “They love it, love it, love it.”
Harriman is delighted her students are afforded a living lab.
“It’s field work that we unfortunately can’t take kids out to do,” Harriman said, “so we bring the field work to them. They learn what a shellfish warden does.
“We’re so lucky because we have people like (Kamphausen) who brings things that she finds on the beach, and identifies them,” Harriman said.
Officer SALTY, in his warden uniform, and Kamphausen worked with all four of the school’s fourth-grade classrooms on Tuesday in one-hour sessions.
They will address a different topic each week — this week focusing on bivalves and univalves. New this year, on the fifth week, will be a session on boating safety.
They visited Susan Harrison’s class first on Tuesday.
“We just go room to room to room,” Hentz said.
Hentz gets great satisfaction from the interaction with students.
“I’ll be 72,” he said. “I’ll be teaching this class until they have to wheel me out in a wheelchair. The health and safety of the public are the real thing, and then you have to throw the word ‘conservation’ in.”
Kamphausen brought in a big jar containing clams, snails and periwinkles. Then, she related a fascinating aspect of these creatures to the students.
“If they eat barnacles, they’re white, but if they eat muscles, they’re orange,” Kamphausen said. “This teaches children the interdependence of the ecosystem.”
The students also learned that mussels have barnacles, which actually are related to lobsters and crabs.
The fourth-graders imparted some knowledge of their own, to their principal’s amazement.
“Look,” Harriman said, “they’re calling to (the clams) to get them to open up, and it worked!”