Severn News

What Can We Learn from a Terrapin?

This past September, we welcomed our newest Admiral to Severn School, a tiny terrapin from the National Aquarium’s Terrapins in the Classroom program. Both our 1st and 8th-grade classes have participated in this program over the years, giving a “head start” to hatchling terrapins before releasing them to their home on Poplar Island in the spring. This program supports the health of our local ecosystem and brings us together as a community. So what can we learn from a terrapin? As it turns out, quite a lot.

Bringing Conservation Home

After a few weeks for our terrapin to adjust to its new home, 8th graders in Ms. Josey’s science classes begin feeding and tracking the growth of our new reptilian friend. Students measure food, feed the terrapin and use digital calipers to measure its growth. They keep track of any changes and will submit this scientific data to the National Aquarium as official documentation for the program.
Severn School Middle School student measures a baby terrapin with digital calipers.
Learning to measure with digital calipers.
Ms. Josey also teaches our 8th graders about the Poplar Island restoration project and how rebuilding the terrapin population plays a part in the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay. At the end of the year, a group of these 8th graders will return the terrapin to Poplar Island and release it into the waters where it was hatched. As our students interact with the terrapin and learn about local environmental issues, they develop a connection — a sense of empathy — for the living creatures that are impacted by our actions.

Bringing Our Community Together

The baby terrapin also travels to Chesapeake Campus to visit with our 1st grade. Ms. Josey, Ms. Wong and Ms. Custer talk to the classes about the Chesapeake Bay and the animals that live in and around it. Each student then observes the hatchling, making note of any special markings or characteristics.
Severn School elementary school students observe a baby terrapin in an aquarium.
Our first graders get close to observe the terrapin!
After spending some time getting to know our new friend, our first graders are tasked with choosing a name for the terrapin. But rather than just pick a name, they create a “name the terrapin” campaign to present to our 8th graders for voting on Teel Campus. After choosing the two names they'll campaign for as a class, they break into groups and prepare for the big day:
  • Observe and draw their own terrapins
  • Learn about the terrapin’s natural habitat and behaviors
  • Create campaign posters and speeches to persuade the 8th graders to choose their proposed name
  • Practice stage presence and public speaking techniques
Once the preliminary work is done, our 1st graders present their speeches and posters followed by the 8th-grade ballot vote. It’s a great way to build camaraderie between our Middle and Lower Schools — our 8th graders support and model good audience etiquette for our 1st graders, while our 1st graders gain confidence presenting to their older peers.
Severn School elementary school students present campaign posters on a stage.
Which name would you pick, Diamond or Swirly?

Drumroll please...

And now, we are pleased to officially present Swirly, a tiny terrapin who teaches us about community and sustainability — our connection to each other and to the greater world.
Baby terrapin in gloved hands.
Baby terrapin Swirly!

Severn’s Environmental Philosophy

Through meaningful acquaintances and interactions one builds understanding and respect. It follows, then, for one to build respect for the earth, one must know and see value in it. We provide our students authentic experiences with the natural world and foster a sense of responsibility for our local ecosystems and an understanding of our impact on the global environment.


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