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Dowdell Middle Magnet Students were visited by Marine Scientist and Author Dr. Ellen Prager, the Shark Whisperer.

The Shark Whisperer

October 24, 2016

Students at Dowdell Middle Magnet School were silent in the auditorium, hanging on every word from a special guest making her first visit to the school; they were now in the presence of “The Shark Whisperer”. 

Dowdell Middle Magnet School, where the theme of Environmental Studies is integrated by academic teachers as part of their curriculum, has established a partnership with Marine Scientist and Author Dr. Ellen Prager and The Florida Aquarium. Prager shared her experiences as an aqua naught living below the surface for the waves for two weeks at a time at a research station in the Florida Keys as well as her many research trips to the Galapagos Islands.  

Dowdell students articulately discussed topics such as overfishing, pollution, invasive species such as the lionfish and other topics with Prager. During the assembly a student asked about the possibility of discovering a new species of fish, “We have really only explored 5 to ten percent of the ocean,” so the possibility of finding a new species is quite possible, explained Prager. 

Prager is an accomplished author with a series of books featuring marine life. Currently all of the 6th grade students have received her book titled "The Shark Whisperer" and all of 7th grade students have received her book, "The Shark Rider". In May 2017 the current 7th grade students will receive the 3rd book in this series, "Stingray City". 

Dowdell students have had an opportunity over the past two years to meet Prager at the Florida Aquarium during book signing events and a grade level field trip. Prager was surprised at how engaging the students are during the question and answer period and their knowledge of the animals in the books. She said, “It’s not only the fact the students are reading my books, but what their teachers are doing with them.” 

Lucas Bhame a 6th-grader at Dowdell who wants to be a zoologist when he graduates, said he enjoyed hearing about Prager’s adventures in the underwater lab as well as reading her books. “My favorite part of her book is when the ship is attacked by birds and dolphins,” he said. He then explained the animals were trying to stop reef blasting and rescue kidnapped campers.  

Coach Pamela Scott, who teaches reading as well as physical education at Dowdell, said her reading classes are able to focus on reading Prager’s books as a novel. The fact the students enjoy the story as well as the entire grade level talking about it especially helps struggling readers get the most out of the text. 

Dowdell’s Principal Roger Stanley explained that Prager’s series fits right into the school’s improvement plan which focuses on reading. “This is what learning is all about, a community partnership with Dr. Prager which brings learning alive.  Research shows as reading improves student success in all subjects increase," he said. 

The school also held a door decorating contest, in preparation for Prager’s visit. Mr. Antoine Jackson, who teaches world history and civics, said he uses the marine biology theme when covering Ancient Greece and Rome with his students. His homeroom class was one of the door decorating contest winners. 

Students and faculty at Dowdell not only read and converse about marine life and ecology, they use service learning as a tool to increase student knowledge and improve their community. Part of their hands-on approach is that everyone can do their part to help protect our planet. 

The Dowdell Middle Magnet School family got out in the community to do some good for the neighborhood by participating in the International Coastal Clean Up, Saturday, September 18, at DeSoto Park in Tampa, where 17 participants from Dowdell removed 14 bags of garbage from the McKay Bay Shoreline. 

“We may have been small, but we filled a dumpster with bags of garbage mostly caught up in the roots of mangrove trees,” said Susan Ferrell, the lead teacher at Dowdell Middle Magnet School. Almost all of the garbage was hidden among the mangrove roots and washed up along the sea wall in the muck during low tide.  

Information from the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, Florida documents the importance of the mangrove root habitat for the survival of many invertebrates including shrimps, crabs and lobsters and as many as 200 species of small fish. The root systems also buffer the shoreline against erosion especially during hurricanes and tropical storms. 

For more information about Dowdell Middle Magnet School and all of Hillsborough County Public Schools’ Magnet School opportunities for the 2017 -2018 school year, visit http://www.sdhc.k12.fl.us/ and search “go magnet”.  You will find application period information, dates for parent information meetings and information about the Hillsborough Choice Expo at the Florida State Fairgrounds Friday, November 4, 2016. You can also contact the Choice Information line at 813-272-4692 for details about all events.

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