May 2008 Issue
Mention biology class and most of us have memories of close encounters with pickled frogs. But those pursuing the subject with teacher Tom McSheffery have gone beyond bugs. The science teacher has made quite a splash with students and faculty, courtesy of Steve and Irwin, two alligators named in honor of the late Australian naturalist that have called Groveport Madison High School home for the past four years.
To McSheffery, the reptiles are more than just teaching assistants. They help conquer the fear factor so prevalent, he says, when it comes to dealing with the uncertainties of nature.
“Hollywood puts these films together and you’ve got these giant alligators coming out of Lake Placid eating people –– and that’s so not true,” he says, also recalling the panic over potential shark attacks that ensued back in the 1970s after “Jaws” debuted on the big screen. “You have a better chance of getting killed by bees in your front yard than you do going to Florida and swimming in the ocean.”
That’s why, McSheffery adds, sharing space with these creatures is so important. “Students get comfortable with them,” he explains. “They take care of them and get to know their habits. In the process, they learn to respect them.”
The gators, who reside in the fiberglass pond occupying a corner of Room 119, and sun themselves –– weather permitting –– on an adjoining porch, have become quite the attention-getters. McSheffery, who also coaches track and cross-country, frequently fields requests for photo ops as visiting teams enjoy posing with 4-year-old Steve and 6-year-old Irwin.
The sight of the duo, who take a daily stroll around the room, has also been known to raise an eyebrow or two with new faculty. “We put a sign up on the door to make sure everyone who comes in knows there’s an alligator there. But how many people believe that?” McSheffery says with a laugh. Case in point is the befuddled sub who took one look and tried to appear nonchalant while running for the door and screaming that there were alligators on the loose.
“When that happens,” McSheffery says. “All you have to do is tell [the alligators] to get back in the water.”