- Associated Press - Sunday, November 12, 2017

NORFOLK, Neb. (AP) - Last school year at Alternatives for Success in Norfolk, two students had a request.

Keegan James and Adam Lindhal wanted to try something beyond the online science curriculum.

They wanted to raise frogs and turtles.

Becki Wulf, the program’s coordinator and teacher, said hesitation was her first reaction.

“I was like, ‘What? No,’” she said. “So what they had to do was write up a proposal and explain it all to me because I’ve never had anything like this.”

Keegan and Adam - who have since graduated - had to detail the cost, the environment needed, how to build the proper aquarium and then they had to get it approved by Jake Luhr, Norfolk High principal.

Once they got the OK, it was then their job to take their research and apply it.

The Norfolk Daily News reports that with their own money, they bought several White’s dumpy tree frogs and razorback musk turtles. Keegan and Adam constructed the aquarium - part land for the frogs and part water for the turtles - and had to solve any problems they encountered.

One of which became feeding the frogs.

“It cost way too much,” Keegan said.

Frogs eat live food, and while the frogs they purchased were smaller than a quarter at first, they’ve since grown. That means they need more food.

At first, they were buying live crickets, which totaled $12-$18 a week, Wulf said. So, Keegan and Adam submitted another proposal - to raise cockroaches that would be used as food for the frogs.

“Of course, when you hear that word, you’re like, ‘No, I’m not going to put cockroaches in the building. I’ll get in trouble. No, I’m not going to do this,’” Wulf said. “Then they showed me you can order them online and so I gave the proposal to Mr. Luhr thinking, ‘There’s no way.’ But he said yes.”

That’s how 20 female and 10 male cockroaches were subsequently bought online and allowed to breed in a blue sealed container lined with packing material so they can’t crawl up the edges. They’re South American cockroaches, which need 90 degree weather to survive - provided by a heat lamp.

“The frogs eat the teenagers,” Wulf said. “We have a lot of breeders, and they have a lot of babies. So the kids have been learning about cockroach reproduction. I mean, it’s really fascinating.”

Paraprofessional Amber Pfeifer, who has a two-year biology degree, has been helping, and current students like Kili Mercier have taken over care for the animals.

Kili said the animals have taught him time management and helped the Alternatives for Success community come together.

“It’s kind of like we learn how to take care of cockroaches and frogs and then we learn how to take care of each other,” Wulf said.

The Alternatives for Success students and staff have gotten attached to having the turtles and frogs around.

“The cockroaches freak people out, but they’re in their container and everyone knows they can’t get out,” Pfeifer said.

But people’s squeamishness has considerably gone down since they unpacked the bugs, Keegan said, and the critters have proven to be educational.

“What I think is the very coolest thing is we’re Alternatives for Success, meaning we provide alternatives and flexibility to kids that need it because of their life situation,” Wulf said. “But this is the ultimate alternative assignment. That’s what we’re going for is to find better ways to learn.”

Keegan and Adam used math, science, research and problem-solving skills to complete the project - and even persuasive speaking to get Wulf on board. Now, future students will continue to reap the benefits since they donated the animals to the class.

“We do encourage kids to come up with projects because online curriculum is good to a point, but hands-on learning is way, way better,” Wulf said, “It’ll last a lifetime.”


Information from: Norfolk Daily News, http://www.norfolkdailynews.com

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