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Running Brook students dissect frogs in after-school program

Tristan Skerrett has seen plenty of frogs, like when he's playing soccer or hanging out with his brother — but he's never seen what one looked like inside before.

That changed Wednesday when Tristan, a third-grader at Running Brook Elementary School in Columbia and a small group of students in an after-school program got to dissect frogs, to their delight and sometimes disgust.

"It has too much slime in it," Tristan said, peeling back the layers of skin and tissue revealing a cavity filled with formaldehyde. "It's a flooding frog."

"A flooded frog," chimed in Alex Bulkley, who was Tristan's dissection partner.

Tristan and Alex, along with Emily Guzman, Kyle Press-Steven and Derrick Morrison, all Running Brook third-graders, were in Antoinette Murray's class as part of Bridges Across Howard County. Bridges is a series of after-school programs that serves a mix of students, from the academically or motivationally challenged to those who are simply interested in things like chess club, world languages, or Rube Goldberg.

Murray, who is the executive director of Murray Educational Services and a Howard County parent, does after-school science enrichment programs across the region, including at Hammond and Waterloo elementary and Columbia Academy in Howard County. At Running Brook, she starts the class by reviewing what the students have already dissected in weeks past — earthworms, crayfish, grasshoppers, squids, sharks and fish — and what they remember about those lessons.

And then, she gets out the frogs, helping the students first cut through the amphibian's skin and a second, protective layer of tissue, then letting them prod through the frog, identifying organs like the liver, heart, fat body and intestines.

There's something about the frogs that's different from any of the other animals they've dissected, Murray tells the students.

"Many of the parts frogs have, who else has them?" she said. "US. We do. We have a heart, and liver and lungs. The frogs, out of all the animals so far, is closest to us. We're not like the earthworm or the crayfish."

That's all well and good, but students had a simpler question for Murray.

"Where do they 'ribbit'?" Derrick asked.

That's the larynx, Murray responded.

"Here, in the throat, it makes them ribbit, just like we're able to talk," Murray said. "We have a larynx, too."

The students went on, cutting off the skin on the frogs' legs, absent of the second protective tissue layer, to Kyle's excitement.

"The frog's been the best one so far," he said, pulling back the leg skin. "It's awesome. Whoa, this looks like a knee. It has a knee? There are bones? These are like chicken legs. Oh, the knee is so they can jump. Maybe they can jump over a tree. A small tree."

The frog might have been Kyle's favorite, but Emily's favorite was the crayfish, and Alex's favorite was the shark. When he cut open his shark two weeks ago, he found the animal's yolk sac, along with two shark pups.

"It's not what I thought it would look like at all," he said, attention back on the frog. "It's so cool. Who gets to dissect frogs in the third grade?"

Giving these kids an opportunity like this is the whole point of the program, Murray said.

"It's a neat time for them to explore animals they've always been familiar with," she said. "It's a unit to grab them attention, to ignite that spark. At this age, they're so excited. They're realizing that science is fun."

It must be, said Bridges site coordinator and Running Brook teacher Maleeta Kitchen — it's all the kids talk about.

"They get so excited," she said. "And they're starting to think like scientists, and we see that interest translate back to the classroom."

Murray's science class is a highlight of Running Brook's after-school programs, said Principal Troy Todd.

"Where else would they get the opportunity to dissect a frog, or a shark, under the guidance of a scientist like this?" he said. "It's exciting to watch the kids as they light up and become budding scientists."

Students in Howard County might not get the chance to dissect animals until high school, if at all, Murray said, so this is a chance to expose them to science at a young age.

"During the school day, there's only so many hours and it's hard to make sure, with science, that they're getting everything they need," she said. "This is a chance to open their eyes to what's around them and they can see the world in different ways."

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