PINEVILLE -- Pineville Elementary students at 202 East 8th Street were treated to a virtual tour through The Turtle Hospital, a sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation center from Marathon, Fla., which coincides with this year's school theme, "Under the Sea."
On Thursday, Sept. 21, students explored the rescue center and were introduced to a variety of sea turtles, each one with a different personality and story. Staff at The Turtle Hospital told the experience of one turtle, Montel, and her story of tragedy and triumph.
Students will also raise funds and adopt Montel for $35 a year. These funds would help cover the hospital's medical expenses, such as surgeries for Montel and the other aquatic patients.
For adopting Montel, students will receive an adoption certificate and email updates on her treatments and care.
Shannon Scates, Pineville Elementary mathematics teacher, started the experience by contacting the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla.
The tour began via video conference. By connecting a laptop to a TV display, the computer would stream the tour through the guide's camera and allow students to see The Turtle Hospital through her eyes.
On the screen, sea turtles could be seen paddling up to the surface to take a quick look and then submerge back deep into their tank. The guide took a moment to speak about the circumstances that led to each turtle's admission into the hospital.
According to the tour guide, Montel is named after Montel Williams because everything that could happen to a turtle happened to Montel. She had tumors, was hit by a boat, and was attacked by a shark. Montel has been a patient at the Turtle Hospital for 20 years. They initially thought she was a male until a few years ago when she "started acting strange. They brought Montel in for an MRI and found out she was carrying eggs.
After the tour, Students were given the opportunity to ask questions.
Riley Farris,13, is an eighth-grade student in Scates' class. He said he enjoyed the experience because "it was really cool to see all the turtles and see them on the camera and see what the hospital does for (the turtles)?"
Farris expressed interest in touring other animal sanctuaries and nature facilities. What would he like to see next?
He said, "I love monkeys, other than dogs. I'd love to see monkeys!"
He also wanted to say a few words to all who were involved in the tour.
"I'd like to thank the people at the Turtle Hospital for taking the time out of their day and putting this presentation to show to our school."
Another student, Joscylin Gilmore, is in eighth grade. She said she would like to see a virtual tour of whales because she has a "fascination" for whales. She added that she enjoyed learning about sea turtles and now knows a sea turtle's brain is the size of a person's thumb.
She also wanted to thank "the lady who did our presentation; it was really nice for her to do that for us -- and (Scates) for showing us the turtle and letting us have the chance to adopt Montel."
Scates acknowledges these virtual tours wouldn't have been possible in the past.
"I think it's wonderful, especially with the technology we have, that allows us to give these tours. Twenty years ago, you would have to travel all the way to Florida to see the sea turtles."
Scates added this tour was more than just an experience. Its goal was to have a lasting impression on her students.
"As a teacher, as a parent, as a member of the community, I think it's important to teach our youth that there are conservation efforts out there. And they can be a positive influence on the environment."