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Teaching Children About Bugs

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/ LAC.20080305.A2BUGS05/TPStory/?query=bugs

DOUBLE TAKE: RESPECT FOR LIFE

Killing insects bugs her

So an L.A. school teacher created student 'bug monitors' to rescue creepy-crawlies and return them to the outdoors

Los Angeles Daily News

March 5, 2008

LOS ANGELES -- It's one small non-step for kids and one giant non-step for bugkind.

Normally, when a child sees a bug, chances are the last thing the bug sees is the bottom of the kid's shoe. But not at Eagle Rock Elementary School & Magnet Center in Los Angeles.

When teacher Melodie Conrad saw a student stomp on a bug several years ago, she knew she had to do something.

But while student monitors for the hallways, chalkboards and classroom windows have been around for years, nobody was quite prepared for the new duty she created: bug monitor.

Now, if any creepy-crawly wanders into her classroom, the student bug monitor swoops in with a paper towel or napkin, scoops up the critter and shepherds it outside.

"I absolutely just feel like we live in a society where violence is prevalent, and I've seen that over the years I've been teaching. I just wanted to be careful that they're exposed to just the opposite in this room," said Ms. Conrad, a 21-year teaching veteran.

"I'm not trying to turn them into bug activists. But I hear these kids say how cool it is when they shot this person in a video game or how cool these bloody movies are, and I'm concerned. That made me think."

To get her students to start thinking about the same issues, she asks them why some want to kill bugs. And it's instilled a sense of respect for life among her students.

Rebecca Tokofsky, 9, said she used to call her dad to get rid of a "scary-looking spider." Now, she is eager for her turn to become bug monitor.

"I don't like hurting animals," she said. "Even though they're tiny, they have an ecosystem, and it's a good idea to take bugs outside and to be kind, even though sometimes it's creepy."

Ms. Conrad's bug-monitor bid comes amid a growing shift in consciousness toward more social responsibility, from recycling to caring about endangered species.

An Internet search shows several bug-advocate sites including Insect Rights Activists, an organization that "lobbies for the humane treatment of insects."

"Insects are prone to unnecessary slaughter," said Daniel Marlos, department chair of media arts at Los Angeles City College.

So Mr. Marlos, who doesn't have a background in entomology, launched www.whatsthatbug.com  to offer general information on which insects are harmless.

"What we promote is trying to stop senseless slaughter, just people being afraid of things they know absolutely nothing about," he said. "Once they understand it's not harmful, they don't hurt them, and they become a little bit more tolerant."

But the message also is a lot bigger than just bugs.

"The website is trying to promote tolerance on many levels," said Mr. Marlos, 51. "It has far greater ramifications in terms of a world view than just killing insects. It's more of a prevailing world view that when they don't understand something, they fear it and want to get rid of it."

"Animal issues are becoming more and more a part of our consciousness," said Sangeeta Kumar, co-ordinator for the www.teachkind.org  program for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which offers U.S. schools and colleges free humane-education materials and policy resources.

"If you can teach a child to respect and protect the smallest and most maligned among us, you can help create better citizens who have compassion for others."

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