“How cool would it be,” Wolf Conservation Center Director Maggie Howell asked 320 Haviland Middle School seventh graders, “if all of your teachers looked like Atka?”
Atka is a full-grown arctic grey wolf, whose presence on stage at an educational assembly at the school Jan. 26 quickly captured the attention of a spellbound audience.
One student was heard to say, “I would love to own a wolf like Atka, but if I did, I think I would be terrified!”
Atka is a 12-year-old grey wolf raised from infancy by the conservation center based in South Salem, N.Y., and he is used as a traveling “ambassador,” the oldest one, in an educational show that seeks to dispel myths about his wild counterparts.
This is the fourth year that WCC, a nonprofit environmental education organization, paid a visit to the school. It’s all part of a multi-curriculum approach, centered on science and ecology with units in social studies, English and mathematics
Howell emphasized in her presentation that the wolf has become a very misunderstood creature because of fairy tales and movies like “Frozen.”
She emphatically explained that wolves do not wear human clothing, like in the Red Riding Hood story, nor do they seek out and devour humans.
In fact, she told the students, “wolves are shy and elusive creatures and they think human beings are a threat to themselves.”
At one point, she asked the students whether anyone had perfume or lotion that they would like to share. One boy gave up his “after shave” lotion and Howell spread a small portion of it on the stage floor. When Atka came near the spot, he sniffed and then began to roll his body over it.
Howell then said, “Remember, wolves will not wear your clothes, but they will wear your scent.”
“And now,” she told the boy, “you and he are members of the same pack!”
He let out a resounding “Wow,” while everyone else was amused and amazed by the wolf’s reaction.
Although recently removed from the endangered species listings, wolves are not out of the woods yet. But there have been dramatic increases in their populations. In 2000, for instance, there were only 14 red wolves in existence. Today, through efforts by organizations like WCC, there are 300, many settling in North Carolina.
The wolf presentation at Haviland is now only part of the wolf experience that Haviland students receive.
Before this year’s assembly, science teacher Coleen Bucci visited Yellowstone National Park and on the return plane ride home, she picked up a book, “Wolf Journal,” written by former Wappingers teacher Brian Connolly, who had moved to the Yellowstone area when he retired and wrote educational books about wolves.
She told the Observer, “After I read Brian’s “Wolf Journal,” we just had to include it in our school curriculum.”
The book is now a part of the multidisciplinary curriculum and will be read this term by seventh graders in their English classes.
In a second part of the assembly, Connolly, who died of cancer last summer, was honored by Haviland with a certificate of appreciation. It was accepted by his daughter, Heather Connolly Jerome, and his grand-daughter, Sophia Jerome, with a contingent of retired teachers from the Wappingers school system on hand.