When PVPV Rawlings teacher Betsy Wetmore announced the annual “Edugator” contest aimed at highlighting the importance of the American alligator, student Carter Magnano was ready.
The fourth grader had anticipated the contest himself after a friend won it five years ago by creating a homemade quiz show. With the prize in mind –– a baby alligator that would reside in Mrs. Wetmore’s class until the end of the year as a class pet –– Magnano and his friends and groupmates, Lucas Laprade and PJ Wilkinson, hunkered down for months in preparation.
The result of the boys’ efforts was a project equal parts unorthodox and creative. Leveraging their combined skills and the abundance of debris left behind by Hurricane Matthew, Magnano, Laprade and Wilkinson created a life-sized paper maché alligator and a humorous video that won them the contest sponsored by the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park.
“The boys really have their own talents that they brought to the project and were completely willing to learn new things for the sake of it,” said Elizabeth Paul, Magnano’s mother and a volunteer history teacher at PVPV Rawlings. “I was so impressed with what they were able to come up with.”
According to Paul, Magnano wrote the script, Laprade helped design the set and Wilkinson edited the video with the help of Magnano’s older brother, Chase. All three boys came together to paint and plaster the alligator crafted from recycled wood and garbage left by the storm.
“I had a great time working with my friends to create a fun and informational project that showed how the American alligator is so important to the environment,” Magnano said of the project. “The contest inspired me to learn more.”
The boys were joined by their classmates, who created their own projects and presentations to form a “living classroom” dedicated to the American alligator’s niche for other classes to tour. The result was a room fit for a baby gator, which was welcomed warmly and named by the class “Gatorade.”
The win couldn’t be more perfectly timed; this school year marks Mrs. Wetmore’s last, and the addition of a pet alligator is the ultimate send off for a teacher Paul said is “once-in-a-lifetime.”
“All of the children did really creative presentations and Mrs. Wetmore has been so supportive of them all throughout the entire year,” Paul said. “Everyone was so happy and excited and super proud of the boys.”