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Earth Day event enjoys new life under new instructor

Red Wing High School junior Danae Pasch creates a fire tornado as part of a series of science experiments performed for first-graders during Earth Day. High school science teacher Jeff Chalmers said the experiments were culled from years of science-related magic shows he has performed for elementary students.1 / 2
Children flocked from animal to animal Friday, including this emu - one of several exotic species on display at Red Wing High School's Earth Day event. -- Mike Longaecker photo2 / 2

When Red Wing High School teacher Steve Nelson retired last year, people wondered if the popular Earth Day program he hatched would follow suit.

Not a chance.

On Friday, hundreds of local first-graders continued the tradition of building bird houses, planting trees and creating streams in joint projects with high school students.

But Chris Sheehan, who took over for Nelson this year as the school's agriculture teacher, had some other things in mind.

"Something that cool, you've got to honor that and make it work," he said.

So he got the science department involved. And two wallabies, which took up temporary residence at the high school's back lawn along with an emu and a llama.

Sheehan said he decided to build on the principles behind Earth Day and expand it beyond the agriculture department.

"It makes a lot of sense to collaborate together because it's all science anyway," he said.

If the first-graders' reactions were any measure, the idea appeared to be a hit. The young students gasped and cheered to the sight of fireballs and dry ice experiments.

"That was a fun opportunity when Chris came to me," said high school science teacher Jeff Chalmers.

The exotic animals were a last-minute addition after a reptile display fell through.

"I called in a favor," Sheehan said.

A former FFA colleague and college friend loaned out the exotic animals. Sheehan said that friend was so excited about the experience that he's committed to bringing more exotic animals in the future.

Sheehan said there was no formal blueprint to work off in staging the Earth Day project, so he turned to Principal Beth Borgen and German teacher Shelley Orr, who helped him find the way.

Sheehan's FFA students helped fill in the gaps.

"We were able to kind of piece it back together," he said.

And then he handed it off to the FFA students, who run the activities and stations.

FFA leaders Bryanna Wittman and Jared Nelson said the experience has been rewarding.

"Seeing the kids have fun is the main thing," Nelson said.