HAYS — The third-graders from Holy Family Catholic Elementary School leaned over the railing, watching Pebbles and Darius, the African spur-thighed tortoises at Sternberg Museum of Natural History, as they crawled about their pen looking for treats Wednesday morning.
And they peppered Ian Trevethan, Sternberg’s education and outreach coordinator, with questions.
Do they get anything special to eat when they’re good? How old are they? How long do they live? Is a year of their life equal to a certain number of human years, like one year for a dog is equal to seven of ours? Do they dress up for Halloween? And many more, both serious and fun.
And Trevethan was delighted.
“I was getting some really good questions. They were thinking, and the questions kept coming. I would love to spend all day with them, just going where they wanted to go,” he said after the students’ visit.
In a classroom on the third floor, another group of students met with zoological collections manager Curtis Schmidt, who set out a number of specimens on tables. The students examined each to determine if they were vertebrates or invertebrates and other aspects by observing, for example, if they had fur or feathers, scales or skin.
Trevethan and the Sternberg staff are used to visits from students, but the relationship they are building with Holy Family is new territory for both parties.
The Salina Catholic Diocese has taken an initiative this year in its schools to incorporate STREAM into their curriculum. Like STEAM, it focuses on integrating science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, but in the diocese, it also means including the “R” — religion.
The diocese is emphasizing community partnerships in the STREAM initiative, and Holy Family Principal Rachel Wentling said she immediately thought of Sternberg.
Trevethan met with Holy Family teachers in two inservice days to brainstorm how to bring the program about. He said the teachers had just as many questions as their students.
“I was just throwing ideas at them. It’s been an experiment in how to organize and how to utilize something like a museum and its resources,” he said, especially for teachers who are used to being more compartmentalized with their classroom resources.
Trevethan has also visited with students at school and said he will be available to visit with them at school in the future, too.
It’s the first time the museum has worked with any school, private or public, on creating an annual program, he said.
“We do a lot of outreach programs within the community for the local schools, and they come and visit us a lot during the spring, but it’s not at the level where we’ve got the teachers coming and spending their inservice days here trying to figure out how to do programming around the museum resources,” he said.