Reptile `world' visits Bollman Bridge Elementary


January 18, 2002|By Betsy Diehl | Betsy Diehl,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JUANITA had never been to school before last week's visit to Bollman Bridge Elementary. She was one of the coolest ones there, despite the lack of a trendy hairstyle or the latest jeans. She is so cool she travels in a picnic cooler. Juanita is an iguana.

Juanita is one of dozens of critters that visited pupils through a PTA-sponsored program Jan. 10. Lisa Nowakowski, the "Lisa" in "Lisa's World of Reptiles and Amphibians," toted 10 coolers filled with cold-blooded creatures to the auditorium to show to preschool through fifth-grade children.

Paige Carey, PTA cultural arts chairwoman, arranged the visit.

"It's really great to have the kids exposed to live animals," Carey said. "I wanted to have the opportunity to bring a little more science into the school."

Biology was peppered with social studies in the program, as Nowakowski noted various habitats of the world, including the Costa Rican rain forest, which she visited in June.

But for some, the visual impact sufficed. Marian Wheltle, speech pathologist in the preschool program, said the youngest pupils were fascinated "just watching the animals flick their tongues out. This is not what you see at school every day."

The children saw Schmedly, a monitor lizard from Africa; Lucille, a ball python; Sam, a red-footed tortoise, who, unlike Juanita, is a veteran visitor to schools ("I bring him everywhere. He's my friend," Nowakowski said.) Other animals - including Riki Tiki, a 12-foot-long albino Burmese python weighing more than 80 pounds - were at school, too.

Nowakowski confidently held the animals as they writhed and wriggled, while chatting easily about things such as habitats and eating habits.

Nowakowski, 55, says she has been around animals nearly all her life, beginning when she was a child in the Bronx, N.Y.

"We always had something chirping or wagging in the house," she said.

Living near a zoo was an added benefit that she took advantage of often.

Today, about 80 reptiles and amphibians share her home in Bel Air.

Some she bought, and others she rescued from disenchanted owners. Nowakowski has been bringing her exotic creatures to area schools for more than 20 years, hoping to cultivate in youngsters a sense of appreciation and respect for wildlife.

At last week's program, she captivated teachers and children with tales of her reptilian escapades - garnered from her hands-on (and nearly fingers-off) experiences.

Some of the accounts were poignant, such as the story of the python starving herself for months so she could protect her eggs. Others, like the one about the bouncing detached iguana tail, elicited groans and grimaces.

While she encouraged the youngsters to appreciate the animals, Nowakowski quashed any notions of keeping them as pets.

"You don't need to buy one of these," she said as she held up an open-mouthed baby caiman (similar to an alligator). "She's just waiting for me to put my finger too close to her face."

The animals are best left in their natural habitats, Nowakowski said, noting that they can require an exhaustive amount of care in captivity.

Nowakowski spends up to 18 hours a day tending her charges.

"So many mouths to feed," she said. "Thank goodness I don't have to buy shoes for them or send them all to college."

Geography geniuses

Hammond Elementary School pupils put their worldly knowledge to the test for the National Geographic Geography Bee this month at the school.

The finalists were Matthew Bernstein, A.J. Brown, Andy Bushong, John Feighner, Logan Grover, Brandon Jennings, Matthew Lehr, Daniel Meiners, Miranda Roseland and Johnny Ruffa.

Matthew Lehr won top honors, allowing him to take a qualifying exam to participate in a statewide competition.

Teacher achiever

Lucy Lublin, a health education teacher at Lime Kiln Middle School, earned National Board Certification - an accomplishment that was recognized in the fall with a congratulatory letter from state Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick.

The award is an "advanced certification" for teachers on a national level, according to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' Web site.

Lublin is one of about 16,000 teachers nationwide to hold the honor.

Harriet Spadin, principal's secretary at Lime Kiln, said Lublin is deserving of such a distinction.

"She's a vivacious person with a winning personality," Spadin said.

Parting words

When Ray Henry, an art teacher at Bollman Bridge Elementary School, was a youngster, his family had the usual dogs and cats as pets. They even had a saltwater aquarium stocked with exotic fish. But the one pet he really wanted, he was not allowed to have.

"I always wanted to have a turtle," Henry said.

He would try to use his outdoor hiking expeditions as a means to secure the pet of his dreams, but his parents foiled his attempts every time.

"I'd find things like turtles and bring them home, but I always had to return them," Henry said.

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