This school year has been an exciting one for students at the Cahoon Elementary Magnet School of Animal Science. In a joint effort with Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, the students have taken part in an innovative new program called “Conservation Matters.” Children in each grade have had the opportunity to explore six of the most pressing ecological issues of our times. Students have been encouraged to study, evaluate and brainstorm fresh, new solutions to these modern day dilemmas - and in the process have opened their hearts as well as their minds.
Kindergarten classes have been studying the challenges that face the cheetah. Sadly, populations of these fast felines have dropped to a mere 10,000 to 12,500 worldwide. It seems that loss of habitat, genetic weakness and conflicts with farmers have all left the cheetah caught in a race against extinction. Luckily, some forward thinking organizations have a plan to protect the species – one that the children are happy to support. School Principal Joanne Griffiths is pleased at how fully immersed the kindergarteners have been in this project. “Not only our students, but our parents are passionate about saving the cheetah - it’s been awesome,” she said.
Since the cheetah holds the title of the fastest land animal on Earth, it’s only suiting that students have chosen to participate in a cheetah run as a way to raise money for the challenged cats. “The kids got sponsored by their friends and family to run laps around our track and all money raised will be given to the Cheetah Conservation Fund to help sponsor a guarding dog,” said Kindergarten Teacher Mrs. Shawler.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund started their successful Livestock Guarding Program in 1994 in which Anatolian Shepherd dogs are used to protect the flock and minimize conflict with predators. These efforts have proven to be highly effective and allow for a more peaceful coexistence between farmers and the cheetah.
So on this warm, spring afternoon, three classes eagerly put on their running shoes and used their “need for speed” to meet their of goal of raising $681 for the cause. 5-year-old Ethan thinks it’s an important thing to do “so that farmers don’t have to kill the cheetahs.” The Conservation Matters project has taught Cahoon Elementary’s students many lessons. While ideas are instrumental and caring is crucial, our next generation of leaders seem to be learning at an early age that action is essential to the creation of a better world. And it’s hard to think of a more powerful lesson than that.