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Friday, May 7, 2021

One grandma is teaching her grandchildren about protecting the environment

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Saladie Rodriquez’s grandchildren came to stay with her for two weeks last summer. A video messaged from one of the family members shows them giggling hysterically as they gawked at a seagull as it fanned its feathers in the air, scratching a chip from a fish.

“Yo’ Mamma, did you kill it?” one of the girls asks.

“No,” Ms. Rodriguez yells. “But when was the last time I ever fed it?”

Ms. Rodriguez is an entomologist and aquarist at the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center in Amherst, Mass., a town next to South Hadley, where Ms. Rodriguez lives. As she describes it, she spends her days trying to get children to recognize, and learn about, fish and amphibians. She teaches them about the vital role they play in keeping water clean.

Ms. Rodriguez and her staff, including Phyllis O’Connor, the “lady lizard lady,” enjoy speaking to school groups about their pet reptiles, chicken aviaries and fish tanks.

“We try to show as many children how to become a conservationist,” Ms. O’Connor said. “Many of these kids who do not understand or have not been exposed to the importance of the environment want answers for why turtles live in ponds and have small paws.”

The day Ms. Rodriguez’s grandchildren began visiting her house, she said, one of them emailed her a video of the mockingbird fanned its feathers in the air. “It came to her screeching and repeating, ‘Maw, I killed it. I kill fish,’ ” Ms. Rodriguez said.

“My grandson said, ‘I should be dead, I should be eating it, and now I’m lying here and you’re saying you can’t feed me it.’ ”

The children asked Ms. Rodriguez if she was going to get rid of the fish. Ms. Rodriguez said she could not, but at the same time wondered how much she should feed them. “It doesn’t appear to be a threat to our water supply, but it does cause problems for the fish life that migrates up,” she said. “We start killing fish because it’s fun to kill fish, but when your little cousin starts killing fish, your judgment is clouded.”

After watching the video, Ms. Rodriguez said she was amazed at how little the grandchildren understood about what they were seeing. “They didn’t know how to get a fish to poke its head up,” she said. “Or even look back toward them. They were shocked because I do that in my spare time.”

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