I would like to share with you something very exciting that happened this past week at Beach Grove Elementary: our students learned that they do have a voice, and that if they use it, someone will listen!
We are very lucky at Beach Grove, as our school is surrounded by nature. Next door there are nesting Great Horned owls and Bald eagles, and just down the street is Boundary Bay Beach. To take advantage of this, the school has been bringing kids outdoors to experience and explore nature in their own backyard. We call it “Beach School”. Currently I run this program with another teacher, Paige Skinner.
Last week, I received an alarming email from a retired Beach Grove staff member, Sue Earles, who previously ran the Beach School program. She was in contact with the municipality because notices went up that the dike was being restructured, and the rockery on the beach was going to be moved.
Sue and I both knew of an existing hibernaculum (underground dens where snakes hibernate) in this exact spot. Personally, my kids have explored this beach for years, catching and releasing dozens and dozens of snakes. With Beach Grove School, all the students have discovered it as well, and it is always a highlight when we go down and find the snakes slithering around.
Upon advising the municipality that the hibernaculum existed, Sue wasn’t given a lot of hope that much could be done at this late date. Environmental assessments had already been done (they missed it). But finally they told her that a biologist would come and be there when excavation occurred.
The students, upon hearing about the restructuring, were devastated. A small group of children decided, on their own (during off school hours), to mount a poster campaign to stop the construction. They drew dozens of posters and plastered them on the fences leading up to the dike and on the giant proposal sign. Personally, I thought it was too late, the tractors were coming the next day – of course, I didn’t say this to the children.
We were shocked the next day when the Project Manager of the site (Kevin Osman) showed up at our school. He told us that he was extremely touched by the display; he could not believe that kids would care that much about the snakes. He brought with him some pictures that he took (in colour and enlarged) to show the biologist carefully catching the snakes, and him helping her. He wanted the kids to know that he would do everything he could to ensure that the snakes were captured and relocated to a safe place before commencing with the project. He even posted his pictures along side the kids on the proposal sign – with a hand written note saying, “the snakes are saved”.
None of us expected what came next. The first day, they collected 85 snakes. A good number we thought. The biologist returned the next day and the number rose to over 300. The third day, a total of about 550 snakes had been captured! That is a very significant population of snakes – if the children hadn’t gotten involved, and the snakes were not safely removed, the ecosystem for kms would have been adversely affected. Snakes are both predator and prey – many different species would have been affected by the loss.
Those snakes were brought to Wildlife Rescue in Burnaby, and were put into dark containers, to again hibernate until the weather warmed up sufficiently. At that time they are to be returned to the same area and released. The Project Manager assured me that he would do his best to inform us as to when it was going to happen.
The children of Beach Grove are ecstatic! They feel personally connected to this habitat, and they feel personally responsible for helping to save the snakes.
I think it is very powerful for children to know that they can make a difference!
Anne Kent, Teacher
Beach Grove Elementary