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Take Note: Amphibian inquiry

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Amphibian Inquiry

It's not easy being green.

Especially if you're a frog in Minnesota.

On a field trip last summer for their nature-studies class, students at the New Country School in LeSueur, Minn., noticed that at least half of the frogs they saw in the area had deformities. Some had malformed appendages or were missing limbs; others had no eyes.

Concerned that the deformities might have been caused by environmental toxins, the students decided to bring their discovery to the attention of state environmental experts and lawmakers.

Earlier this month, they testified at the state legislature, persuading members of a House environment and natural resources committee to approve a $201,000 environmental study of the frog deformities and what might be causing them. The proposed appropriation also includes money for some related educational activities.

Such hands-on lessons in science and government are not uncommon at the year-round school in LeSueur, a rural community once home to the vegetable-processing Green Giant Company. The 2-year-old charter school for grades 7-12 works closely with Designs for Learning, one of the nine design teams that won funding from the New American School Development Corporation to set up innovative schools. (See Education Week, March 15, 1995.)

The students have launched a research effort dubbed "The Frog Project," and they are working with scientists from the state Pollution Control Agency and a University of Minnesota professor to investigate the cause of the frog deformities. They've also been busy giving interviews about their findings to reporters and fielding some unusual inquiries--such as a call from a disc jockey named "Hopalong Cassidy" at FROG Radio, a station in northern Minnesota.

New Country's students have even set up a special site on their school's World Wide Web page about the project. Information is available at

But some of the attention appears to be wearing thin. On the frog site, student Ryan Fisher's comments suggest that he and his peers have been inundated with requests for pictures of the deformed frogs. "The frog pictures are coming," he says. "I'm only 15, and I have a lot of other work to do besides this page."

--Meg Sommerfeld

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