I recently ran into a former student, one of my first graders from long ago who is now college age! These are always delightful encounters, but this one was particularly special. As we stood in the middle of the store, talking and filling in the blanks between 1st grade and now, Jesse remarked that she had loved 1st grade because of the whales. She was referring to my whale unit, a reading/writing unit I developed during my first year of teaching, and which was a yearly favorite with my classes for the next 5 years.
As part of that unit, my students collected aluminum cans and raised enough money to “adopt” a baby Orca. Whale adoption was (and still is) a fund-raising program through the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, to support research on the resident orca pods of the Northwest. The whale we chose to adopt was named “Oreo” (or J-22). Each of my classes for the next few years (including Jesse’s 1st grade class), raised enough money to renew the adoption for another year.
I hadn’t checked up on Oreo in many years, so after talking with Jesse, I decided to see what I could find out about her! It didn’t take long to find that the adoption program and research is still going strong, and that Oreo, whom I always think of as a happy, frolicking youngster, is now a mother of two young orcas, “Doublestuf” (J-34), born in 1997, and “Cookie” (J-38), born in 2002. I’m an Orca Grammy!!
Whales are so interesting to learn about, and Orcas are particularly fascinating. They are highly intelligent, and have an intricate social structure. An orca pod is “an extended family containing maternal groups composed of mothers and their offspring. Some of these family units may have as many as four generations traveling together.”
I’ve been lucky enough to see these amazing creatures on a number of occasions, and each time was an absolute thrill. If you’re interested in learning more about them, there’s lots of good information available now online, especially about the resident orca pods of the Northwest. Perhaps you’d be interested in adopting a baby orca and eventually becoming an Orca grandparent, too?
Where to start:
The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, WA
Orcinus Orca Collective (a very nice Orca blog)
That is so cool. Both that you got to talk with your former student and that you did such a fasinating whale study that it is remembered still. I wish I had had a teacher like you. You obviously adore your job and your students.
People (young and old) become totally fascinated and involved with the Orcas (and the other whales!) when they starting reading about them. So it was a fun kind of unit to put together. It was nice because it integrated reading, writing, science and art, and because the students were so captured by the subject matter.
The sad thing is that “back then” teachers were encouraged to develop curriculum like this around a set of guidelines and learning objectives. Now, the curriculum is completely prescribed, driven by testing and sameness. The district/state keep adding more and more of that kind of curriculum to our plate, without taking anything off. It’s taking the creative joy out of teaching. It is also literally impossible to teach the quantity of curriculum prescribed and required in the 180 school days per year.
So in all honesty, with all the prescribed curriculum we are required to teach, there is simply not enough time to teach this whale unit today…and the replacement science unit, purchased by the school district, would not have the heart or the appeal of that old whale unit that obviously touched the heart of my former student, Jesse.
I have adored my job, and I adore my students, but I’ve reached a crisis point with my chosen profession. I feel this testing-driven push toward sameness is not the best for kids, and it is taking the heart out of the teachers…more work, less joy…and the interest out of it all for the kids.
Sorry for the long rant here!
What an incredible thing to do with and for your students, and how special to find out the whales are still doing so well! That’s wonderful!
How totally cool! We saw a pod of orcas on our vacation in Alaska, last year. They didn’t stick around for long, but they were beautiful.
What an amazing story this is! I love the fact that you were able to track down the Orca and learn what she’d been up to.
Heather,Bookfool, and Tara,
It was really a thrill to discover that Oreo had grown up and was a mother (twice!). I love the names they gave her offspring. They are such beautiful and amazing creatures!
It’s nice to have the memories surface from time to time. I was fortunate to see Orcas when visiting the northwest. They are my favorite whales. Love the picture of Oreo and Cookie.
I’ve been traveling, so I didn’t see your comment until today. You were so lucky to see the Orcas! Aren’t they incredible?! I was overwhelmed by the sound of their breathing. It gave me such a sense of their size.