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Principal Turns Bat Presence
Into Teachable Moment

Bats typically are not welcome indoors, and when bats in a school gymnasium raised concerns about potential attacks on students, a principal turned to a biologist to give the school and greater community an education about these misunderstood winged mammals. Included: Facts about bats.

Children and bats -- unless they are the type of bats that connect with baseballs -- is a blood pressure-raising interaction. In reality, the winged mammals are not the blood-sucking terrors of film and fiction. But bats nasty reputation and potential for carrying rabies and other diseases make adults cringe at the thought of them anywhere near kids.

So when a bat dropped -- literally -- into the gymnasium at a West Virginia elementary school and a second-grader touched it, concern intensified in the community and school. Despite a mini-media storm, the principal of the school was able to turn the situation into a learning experience for his students, parents, and teachers.

FORGET THE BELFRY THE BATS ARE IN THE GYM

The school, Ramage Elementary School in Danville, West Virginia, had a space between the brick line and the roof over the gymnasium that gave the bats access, said principal Roger Barker. Some teachers said the bats had been going in and out for years; flying out at night to eat and returning to the school in the morning to sleep.

But the first time a bat actually came close to a student was in April 2009, when one dropped onto the gym floor, Barker told Education World. A second-grader touched it, and the school promptly notified the local health department, which removed the bat for testing and determined it was not rabid, he said. We followed protocol.


Why did you have bats? Because you made them a place. They were not here because the school was dirty or other conditions.

The school hired a company to seal up the crevice so the bats could no longer enter the school. Some of the local media coverage about the bats, though, alarmed some members of the community and fueled some of the misconceptions about bats.

Barker learned that the schools business partner, Massey Energy Company, had a biologist on staff who specializes in bats, and decided to invite him to give an educational presentation to the school community. I always try to turn something negative into a positive, Barker said.

BATS GET A BAD RAP

The biologist, Joe Elia, works for Logan County Mine Services, a subsidiary of Massey, and surveys potential mining sites to determine if they are home to endangered species of bats. Elia reassured school personnel that the bats presence had nothing to do with unsanitary conditions at the school. I said, Why did you have bats? Because you made them a place, Elia told Education World. They were not here because the school was dirty or other conditions. The school had an area where they could get under the eave and into the gym.

Lots of misinformation exists about bats, such as the notions that they attack people to suck blood, and Elia tries to dispel it when he can. Ive worked with bats for five years, and Ive never been hit or bitten by a bat, Elia said.

Elia put together a presentation for the students and the parents -- his first for a school. I went over a slide show, and showed them the different myths about bats, he said. The bats in the school were similar to Indiana brown bats, which live in the area and are an endangered species. The bats around here are small, he noted. And while there is a type of bat known as the vampire bat, it does not live in West Virginia and doesnt attack people to suck blood, according to Elia.


The students enjoyed the presentation and hearing about the benefits of bats. When you dont know about something, you tend to believe what you hear.

The bats here feed on insects, like mosquitoes, he went on. I asked the kids, Are there any mosquitoes in the room? No one raised their hand. I said, Unless you are a mosquito, you dont have to worry about a bat. Elia showed students a video illustrating how bats were able to dodge a net using their echolocation abilities, a keen ability that compensates for their poor eyesight.

REASSURING PARENTS, KIDS

Most of the parents fears had to do with the possibility of children being attacked by a bat, bitten by a rabid bat, and being exposed to bat feces, Elia noted. Besides reassuring parents that bats eat insects, he said that bats avoid people as much as possible. While bat feces can carry a fungus that is dangerous if inhaled, it is no more dangerous than bird feces, Elia said. And once the opening in the eave was sealed up, the bats could not return.

Elia did caution parents to keep their children away from any bats on the ground. If you find one in the yard, it could be rabid and near death, so dont go near it, he said.

The presentation did a lot to alleviate fears in the school and community as well as educate students, Barker noted. The students enjoyed the presentation and hearing about the benefits of bats, he said. When you dont know about something, you tend to believe what you hear.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Bats in the Classroom: Activities Across The Curriculum

 

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