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Determined fourth-graders set for whale of a trip Class hopes to observe creatures on four-hour cruise


WESTMINSTER -- The lure of the sea and the song of the whale were just too much for 28 fourth-graders at Westminster Elementary School to resist.

Last month, they told their teacher they wanted to take a whale-watching cruise, and they refused to take no for an answer.

"I brought in a news article that said there was going to be a whale watch May through June," said Zach Dodt, one of the students in Margaret Caricofe's class. "We were all excited to do it, and we all just went for it."

"This is no field trip," said Megan Beaver. "On a regular school field trip, the school organizes it. We're planning this. We have a lot more say in this, and we have a lot more decision-making."

Of course, you can imagine Caricofe's first reaction when Zach brought in the article.

"She said, 'No way,' " said Melissa McDonald.

"Then we begged her," said Kristin Roulette. "And she finally said yes."

"They kept saying, 'Please just call them, please just call,' " Caricofe said.

Before long, she was infected by their can-do attitude, and has turned the entire planning process into a real-life lesson.

"If I asked any of them to plan a trip now, I bet they could do it," she said.

They will embark the morning of June 6 for a day trip on a chartered bus to Cape May, N.J. The four-hour cruise guarantees at least a dolphin sighting and an 80 percent chance of seeing a whale migrating north for the summer.

The children all knew it wasn't as simple a matter as getting a "yes" from Caricofe, who's as excited about the trip as her students are.

She kept them abreast of every "hurdle" -- the permission from the principal and Assistant Superintendent Brian Lockard, the need to have the ship send a copy of its insurance binder for the administration to verify, chartering the bus and raising money.

Caricofe was worried that not all students would be able to afford the $33 per-person cost, especially because she required each student to be accompanied by at least one parent, meaning a minimum cost of $66 per family.

To make sure no student has to miss out, the class has been raising money from area businesses, clubs and individuals. The Road Runners' Club donated $100, a kindergarten teacher gave them $20, and a few more of the 34 letters they sent out have elicited responses and checks.

Megan Beaver and Jessica Hall co-wrote their solicitation letter to Taneytown Bank and Trust:

"We want to see some [whales] alive out in the ocean and free. We need your help though," they wrote.

They plan to write thank-you letters to all who donate, and send postcards to their sponsors from Cape May.

Although the trip idea first emerged in April, the children had studied whales earlier in the year. They also had studied Victorian homes, and the ship's captain will point out to them Cape May's restored houses.

"This whole thing started when we went to the [National] Aquarium," said Jamie Knox. The children saw the dolphins and beluga whales, one of which has since died and the others moved away for their safety.

"We got really attached to whales," Jessica said.

"They're so fascinating and graceful, and they're neat," said Meghan Griggs.

"They're in the ocean, and they're far away from here," Jessica said, further explaining the mysterious allure.

"They sing songs and they breach," said Tara Gist, using the term for a whale's horizontal rise from the water. The children learned other specific terms for whale moves, such as bob-tailing and spy-hopping.

"We don't really like seeing them in captivity," said Kellie Pullen. "We want to see them in their own habitat."

"That was a big issue," Caricofe said. She said she teaches the children to "think globally, act locally."

"We found out the global issue that whales were being killed," said Sarah Adams. "Our local thing was we adopted two whales, and the money we gave would help do research."

The class "adopted" Midnight and Nurse, two humpback whales, through a wildlife organization. They raised their $15 donation for the adoption by throwing spare change in a jar for a few months.

Caricofe said the students are learning that their world doesn't stop at the county line.

"What I'm trying to do is teach kids to be risk-takers and decision-makers," she said. She added that to do that, "Teachers have to be risk-takers, too."

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