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Manette Metcalf and Castaic Elementary 2nd Graders

A Transplanted Floridian Teaches California Kids About Manatees

Manette Metcalf and the second graders at Castaic Elementary School. (Photo by Mindi Bedaux.)

The photo came via email to Save the Manatee Club, and no explanation was needed. It featured 22 smiling children and their teacher, all wearing SMC T-shirts with a sign that read: “We love manatees!” All of the T-shirts were purchased by teacher Manette Metcalf, who has also adopted a manatee for each of her school classes over the last 12 years.

What do you like best about manatees?
•They have cute little noses and cute little playful bodies.-- Isabella
•They are funny when they are playful because they twirl. -- Kylie
•How they stick up their noses out of the water. -- Elijah
•I like that they are so cute. -- Nico

Metcalf is a second grade teacher at Castaic Elementary in California and a transplanted Floridian. She grew up spending time at Florida’s rivers and beaches, and her introduction to manatees came at a young age and in a startling way.

“One day we decided to launch our little wooden fishing boat into the Tomoka River and fish a while,” said Metcalf. “We were quietly fishing when my dad noticed a manatee swimming toward us. He pointed it out, and we all quickly reeled in our fishing lines and waited for it to pass. We waited, and waited, and then heard a scraping sound. There was a slight rocking motion at first and then we started moving…up! My dad yelled, ‘Hold on, he’s under the boat!’ The manatee lifted the boat – filled with our family of five and our dog – up out of the water, and believe me, we held on. Then, as suddenly as we lifted up, we came down again and rocked around a bit. As things quieted down, we looked downriver, saw the manatee come up for air, and then calmly continue his journey.”

Years later, Metcalf married and moved to California, where she started teaching. In her classes, she would sometimes tell stories from her childhood as they related to lessons in science, social studies, or language arts, and it was then that she decided to adopt a manatee. “As I was looking at the Save the Manatee Club web site, I saw Howie’s biography,” she said. “After reading that he had turned over the research canoe, I knew Howie was the one to adopt.”

The Castaic 2nd graders show off their descriptive writing and illustration projects. They are able to watch manatees on the classoom TV (at left) through SMC's webcams. (Photo courtesy Manette Metcalf)

Metcalf has adopted Howie each year since that time and has shared her interest in manatees, while helping her students improve various skills at the same time. This year’s second grade class, for example, has learned about manatees by reading books, using the Club’s free education materials, and watching them on SMC’s live webcams at Blue Spring State Park. The students then produced descriptive writing assignments and created illustrations. In addition, the students have generated questions about manatees and used a computer to research and find the answers.

“This adoption year has been the most interesting and exciting with the addition of the webcam at Blue Spring,” said Metcalf. “We are fortunate to have a live feed into a television in our classroom, and we have been keeping it on most of each day. We have been able to go about our daily lessons with it on, but when something particularly interesting happens we have a ‘manatee alert’ and everything stops while we check it out. I admit it is a bit chaotic at times, but it is good chaos. Watching the manatees and other animals interact in their natural habitat is priceless. The children actually get to observe researchers as they work and record information.”

What was the most interesting
fact you learned?

•We learned that when manatees are in cold water they get sick. -- Ryan
•They have calfs. -- Andru
•About manatees, well I did not know they have algae. -- Ashley
•The most interesting fact we learned is that manatees are ten feet. -- Candice
•That manatees are (sea) cows. -- Colin

Each day, the students look forward to reading manatee reports from Wayne Hartley, SMC’s Manatee Specialist, and they discuss how the number of manatees in the spring relate to the river temperature. “We have observed turtles sunning, herons and cormorants fishing, and an alligator being teased by a manatee,” said Metcalf. “We watched a curious group of manatees swim up to a canoe and then follow it. We have really been able to see just how playful they are as they roll, twist, and twirl underwater. This has been a wonderful and exciting year for our class, and we appreciate all that everyone involved is doing to save our wonderful manatees.”

Howie the manatee
Mrs. Metcalf and the Castaic Elementary 2nd Graders are the adoptive parents of Howie, a manatee who frequents the warm waters of Blue Spring State Park in the winter. Howie has been known to winter at the park since 1971. One of Howie's favorite activities is to tip the research canoe -- with the researchers in it!

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