Dwight Sieggreen never expected to be running a nursery. He’s a 7th grade science teacher, after all. But a nursery-cum-bordello—for frogs and toads, no less—is exactly what his school’s old greenhouse has become.
The blame for the wet floors, humidity, and occasional amphibian escapees can be laid squarely on his students at Hillside Middle School in Northville, Michigan. They’re the ones who, upon Sieggreen’s return from a Fulbright Memorial Fund trip to Japan four years ago, took to heart the plight of the increasingly rare species he’d studied there and proposed that they help out by breeding some frogs and toads of their own.
Michigan winters aren’t suited to the rainforest dwellers Sieggreen’s classes wanted to breed, but with the help of grants and guidance from the Detroit Zoological Institute and others, the school was able to simulate their natural habitat. The furnishings for the greenhouse’s 10 species include 27 water tanks, three water reservoirs, a rain chamber, and special lighting to mimic sunlight, all of which the students must maintain daily.
Their diligence has paid off: In 2003, Sieggreen’s class managed to breed Surinam toads (Pipa pipa), the South American creatures Sieggreen calls “so ugly, they’re beautiful.” As far as he knows, “We’re the only school that’s ever been able to raise Pipas,” the teacher says. The feat is rare even in zoos such as Detroit’s National Amphibian Conservation Center, where the seven class-raised toads are now on display. Sieggreen’s students have also had success producing other toad offspring and are now taking on the challenge of propagating other species.
Even more impressive than helping imperiled exotic animals, however, may be what the students learn in the process. Chris Ponder, an 8th grader who was in Sieggreen’s class and worked closely with the frogs last year, recalls that being able to interact with them really brought science to life.
“It was just the coolest thing,” he says. “I could’ve never understood it that well from a book.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2005 edition of Teacher as Being Green