Hector hosts Whale project

Hector Elementary School (HES) recently hosted a science-focused Parent Night event, featuring an inland whale project from the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) chapter of the National Science Teachers Association.

The event featured a life-size, 93-ft. blow-up model of a female blue whale that students and their families could walk inside of and learn about whales from.

Kara Rohr, HES principal, said the event was very successful.

"We had a little over 350 visitors that came from the community, because we did open it up to the whole community. It was one of our larger turnouts for Parent Night," she said.

Rohr, who used to be a third-grade teacher at HES, said she heard about the whale project while participating in professional development at UCA. Once she became the school's principal, she decided to look into bringing the project to HES.

"A lot of our students don't get the opportunity to travel very far away from Hector or the Russellville area, so it's important to be able to bring educational pieces to them, and to expose them to things like this, because I feel like a lot of them aren't going to get that opportunity to go out and see it themselves," she said.

Rohr said Professor Jerry Mimms and Dr. Uma Garimella from UCA brought the whale. Mimms and Garimella also brought several students, who are majoring in education, to help present the different stations.

The event began with an informative presentation that covered topics such as the behavior, lifespan and intelligence of whales. Those in attendance were then able to experience the whale model for themselves. Rohr said the students loved it. "They loved going inside of the whale, it gave them a better perspective of how big they are. It was kind of neat to hear their comments like 'Wow, I could see how easy it would be to be swallowed by a whale' or 'Now I can understand how Jonah got swallowed by a whale,'" she said.

The group from UCA also brought a blubber tank, which Rohr said gave students hands-on experience with how blubber helps whales stay warm in cold water.

"They actually got to put a blubber glove on and stick their blubber glove hand in icy water alongside their other hand that didn't have any protection on it, so they were quickly able to learn that blubber easily protected whales in that cold water," she said, adding that the group also did a simulation of a whale spouting water from its blowhole.

"It was a neat hands-on experience, rather than just seeing it on a computer screen or something like that," she said.

Rohr said she hopes to do more events like this in the future.

"We usually try to do at least a couple Parent Nights a year, so next year we'll do a couple more. And UCA's great in that they have several different interactive projects that they can bring to the school, so I'll definitely be considering bringing another one of theirs as well," she said.