Walking into the entrance of Clay County ICS Head Start is very much like visiting an aquarium. There to welcome students, faculty and parents, is a large blue whale named Clay and an octopus named County, along with Ariel the mermaid and other marine life.

Kenneth Logan, director of male involvement with Head Start was very proud of the display that had been created by students and their parents for the undersea project.“It is really something amazing to see,” Logan said. “We are so very pleased with all the parents who put forth the effort to create something like this. We didn't think it would be this successful. We have some imaginative and talented parents here at Head Start.”

The school has been transformed into an aquarium full of exotic marine life. Both hallways at the school and the entrance are full of sea creatures of every description. “We wanted to involve our parents in a project for the children.” Johnnie Coggins, a teacher at Head Start, said. “Every class had parental involvement. Parents were happy to work with us and their children to create posters and animals who live in the ocean.”

The project has brought the creatures who live in the ocean to the forefront of the children's imagination. Most of the students have seen “The Little Mermaid” and “Finding Nemo” but the project brought that undersea world into their school. “It makes me think of the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta,” Coggins said. “The sea animals are all over the walls and hanging from the ceiling. No matter how many times I walk up these halls, I notice something I didn't see before.” The school – wide exhibit brings aquatic animals to children who have never seen the ocean. The walls are covered in stingrays, jelly fish, sharks, starfish, octopus, crabs, dolphins, clown fish, sea horses, sea turtles, lobsters and fish of every size, description and color.

“We've been talking to the children about the difference between living in the sea and living on dry land,” Coggins said. “We had to explain that sea creatures can't breathe air like we do, and we can't breathe underwater. They are learning that there is a lot more water on our planet than land and why water is so important to all of us who live on planet Earth.”

The display also has the habitat of ocean life, like coral reefs and plants that provide camouflage and hiding places for smaller fish. “We discussed what it means to be predator and prey,” Coggins said. “The children understood that whales and sharks eat other ocean inhabitants, but we had to explain that lots of the small fish are constantly hiding to keep from being eaten by more than just sharks.”Sania Cofer, a head start student, said she really likes the jellyfish because she saw them on SpongeBob SquarePants. SpongeBob likes to catch jellyfish in a net. “I really like the sharks,” Brandon Moore said. “I want a shark for a pet. I wouldn't put him in the bathtub, I want to keep him in my room. A big teeth shark.” Jeremiah Foster said he likes the sea turtles because they would be fun to play with.

“We use the posters and the animals on the wall for lessons,” Coggins said. “During class we take them out in the hall and ask them to point out a green creature, or a blue one. They can count the starfish or the sharks. It is a wonderful fun way to teach while they don't even realize they're learning.”  Emma Box, a teacher's assistant said it makes the school stand out from the other pre – kindergartens. This is a project that is unique to Clay County ICS Head Start. “The kids just love it,” Box said. “It makes them happy just to walk down the halls. The children know a lot about the ocean and what lives in it. We try to make learning new things fun.”

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Donna Summerall/Daily Times Leader/West Point

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