Taxidermy class sparks student interest & confidence

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(Host)    Check out most high schools and you’ll probably find a diverse group of after school activities.   Things like: soccer, art, chess, debate, archery, fencing, creative writing, poetry.

Getting kids excited about science is often challenging, especially after shool.  Textbooks can be dry and many kids do better with a more hands on approach.  

Check out a Flickr slideshow of photos from the class

A popular science teacher at Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon, seems more successful than most.  Among his secrets?    A  popular, after school taxidermy course.  VPR’s Nina Keck paid a visit and filed this report.

(classroom ambiance)

(Keck)   School let out half an hour ago, but you wouldn’t know that if you looked in Brad Frohlof’s second floor science classroom.  Five students are bent low over their desks, hard at work on deer hides.  Erin Keyes is a sophomore.

(hide scraping sounds) 

(Erin Keyes)"Well I’m scraping the salt off the hide so I can start doing my busy work on it.    After I finish scraping off the salt then I can start working on the fat that’s still attached to the hide and it’s going to make it nice and beautiful and ready for tanning."

(Keck)   No one in Keye’s family hunts, so Mr. Frohlof provided her with a deer head to work on.  She removed the skull, bones and soft tissue weeks ago.   The remaining hide lays inside-out across her desk.    She and the other students meet two to three times a week after school.    Before they’re finished, most of the students will put in 50 to 60 hours of work.

(Brad Frohlof) "Tonight you’re going to be working on thinning the eye skin – so after I get my apron on, I’ll show . . .  probably Garrett  . . . . I’ll show on yours and the rest of you can get started. . . . "

(Keck)     Brad Frohlof has been teaching science at Otter Valley for 34 years and it’s obvious he still loves it.    An avid hunter and outdoorsman, he says he got the taxidermy idea more than 20 years ago, when he saw an ad in a hunting catalog.                                           

(Frohlof) "They had a kit for sale for $45 to be able to mount your own deer.   So I sent away for it.   My son was 3 at the time and he and I mounted a deer on the living room table.   And it came out pretty good for a first effort!    And as a result, the next year I bought half a dozen kits and started with kids at school that were interested.   And it just grew."     

(sound of classroom) 

(Keck)  These days twelve to fifteen students take the course each year and there’s usually a waiting list.   

(Frohlof) "A young lad stopped me in the hall today – his grandfather shot a wondrous buck – the biggest buck in the family!  And he wants to know when he can start taxidermy.  I said, well, you need to package it well in the freezer and come see me first thing in the fall and you’ll be number one."   

(Keck)     Frohlof volunteers his time to teach the course.  Over the years he says students have brought in just about everything from squirrels, otters and waterfowl – to bobcats and foxes.    He says working on the animals is a fantastic, hands-on way to learn about nature and biology.

(sound of drill and hammering)   

(Frohlof) "It’s more than just memorizing facts, it’s a melding a number of different disciplines.   And in this case it also involves art in order to get that end product to look as lifelike as possible.  And I view this as the ultimate dissecting project.

So far so good – yeah, that looks good.    What I need you to do is scrape off a little bit, feel it and then scrape off a little bit more.   (okay)  As soon as you can see dark spots,  that tells you that you’re at the base of these eyelashes.  The follicles on the base of those are really going to show up as dark dots.  That tells you to stop."

(Keck)   Freshman Kate Larock nods and Frohlof moves on to help another student.   Larock says she initially took the course purely for extra credit to boost her science grade.   But now, she says she’s really enjoying it.  Though she admits she wasn’t so sure when she had to take the antlers and skin off her deer at home before the course started.                                                      

(Larock)   "You had to get the horns off the head at home.   And I opened up the bag and it was like – UUUHHGG!   Let’s get this over with – it stinks.  (Nina Keck) "What does your mom and your dad think about this?" 

(Larock) "Um, they think it’s cool, I mean my whole family’s like – ‘Oh my God, so what did you do in taxidermy?’   I’m like, okay.   They’re all interested, especially my dad."  

(Keck)  For the record, there’s little to no smell in the classroom.   Brad Frohlof says the first night can be juicy, but any lingering smell fades quickly as the hides dry out.  Sophomore Erin Keyes smiles and says taxidermy is definitely not your typical after school activity.  And while she says some of her vegetarian friends may think it’s disgusting, she loves it.

(Erin Keyes) "I’ve always been fascinated with taxidermy and being able to see something so majestic up close and personal I mean that’s really cool."    

(Keck)    Brad Frohlof thinks so too.  He says many of his students start the taxidermy course nervous and unsure.  

(Frohlof)  "They don’t have the faith yet, but I know that they’re going to each of them turn out an incredible product.   They will." 

(Keck)   Watching that happen and seeing the confidence and excitement it builds in so many different types of students – that, says Frohlof, is what teaching is all about.   For VPR news, I’m Nina Keck

(Frohlof)  "Your there, don’t mess with the eyelashes they’re perfect.   So, are you comfortable with that eye?"

(Student) "Yeah"

(Frohlof)  " Okay, there you go, then that is exactly what you want. . . you are set, you’re set."  

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