Holly Baker is a high school biology teacher at Indian Lake High School and was a recipient of a recent MHDAS mini-grant. The grant proposal was a unique and very creative approach to supplementing a trauma sensitive classroom via therapy tortoises. The biology classroom is now home to two Marginated therapy tortoises. These tortoises are a highly engaging and behaviorally regulating addition to promoting a supportive classroom environment. Weighing in at only a few ounces each, handling them requires a gentle and nurturing touch. When one looks in their tiny eyes, notices the biologically affixed smile and the depth of the detail of the colors and features of this animal, typical responses include a genuine smile, statements about cuteness, or simply laughter.
Native to the Mediterranean, these tortoises are slow going, slow growing, long livers. It takes 4 years to even determine whether the tortoises are male or female. They are very easy to care for, simply requiring vegetables and regular baths. Babies need to be socialized, so the students are free to get them out and let them sit on their desk during class. The tortoises do not fall off the desk and have a very small range. The desk is plenty of room for the relatively stagnant baby tortoises.
Since implementing the therapy tortoises in the classroom, Ms. Baker has noticed that they have brought out the empathetic and nurturing side of her students. Typical biology classroom academic rigors are not necessarily designed to bring out students’ compassionate sides. Allowing the students to nurture the tortoises is actually nurturing for the students as well. One of the most important things in today’s classroom, reports Ms. Baker, is to purposefully keep a positive mindset and not allow yourself to be weighed down by barriers to learning. The tortoises go the extra mile to keep kids calm and engaged and feeling positive.
These tortoises can live to be more than 100 years old, and there are a few lessons in that for all of us. Take things slow and easy if you can help it, chill out as much as possible, and eat lots of veggies.