Raintree School Students Become Shark Experts as They Learn from the “Shark Lady”

Pre-kindergarteners at Raintree School (Raintree) in Ballwin are undergoing a deep-sea study of sharks with the help of the “Shark Lady” during their semester-long project.
Children at the nature-inspired kindergarten and preschool have been learning about sharks and will now learn from the best: Eugenie Clark. Clark (AKA: the Shark Lady) is a world-renowned ichthyologist known for her research on poisonous fish of the tropical seas and on the behavior of sharks. She is also a pioneer in the field of scuba diving for research purposes and is the founding director of Mote Marine Laboratory: Center for Shark Research in Sarasota, Florida, where at age 91, she continues her research.

“Like most children, our students are fascinated by sharks, and at Raintree, we feed their intellectual curiosity by giving children the freedom to choose their topics of study,” said Brandi Cartwright, co-founder and academic dean at Raintree. “Having the ability to interact with Eugenie Clark gives the four and five-year old children a powerful connection from their passionate pursuits to the science happening all over the world.”

Raintree, a private kindergarten and preschool, is only one of a few Reggio Emilia-inspired schools in the St. Louis area and when they move to their new, 11-acre wooded campus this winter in Town and Country, Raintree will become the only Forest School in Missouri.

The community of young children began the school year with an interest in sharks. They took that interest and turned it into a long-term, collaborative project. The project included having the kids draw pictures of their favorite shark species and write letters to Clark. In their letters, students asked her questions about marine life and sharks. She responded to the students with a drawing of her own, thanking them for their sweet words and impressive illustrations, and answered many of their questions.

For example, the students took interest in a shark’s fins and asked Clark for details about the varying sizes of the creature’s most iconic warning sign. “The size of a shark’s fin depends on its size and species,” responded Clark. “The thresher shark has a very long tail, and the oceanic white tip shark has long pectoral fins. The dorsal fin of the six gill shark is small compared to its body length.”

Amid their in-depth marine studies, these young shark experts inquired about the unusually small eyes on one of the ocean’s largest occupants – the whale shark. “The eyes of a whale shark are small probably because they depend more on their other senses, such as olfactory (nostrils), to find food. The adult nurse shark is almost blind and easily finds food using other senses. They eyes of a great white shark look black.”

“The whole experience working with the children has been just as rewarding for me. It’s exciting to see these young minds so interested in marine life,” said Clark. “Children have a unique way of looking at things, which can be refreshing.”

About Raintree School
Raintree School is a private kindergarten and preschool that offers part-time and full-time educational programs for two year olds, preschoolers and kindergarteners, as well as before- and after-school care and a summer camp for children up to age six. They are only one of a few Reggio Emilia-inspired schools in the St. Louis area and when they move to their new, 11-acre wooded campus this winter in Town and Country, they will become the only Forest School in Missouri. Forest Schools are a type of outdoor education that introduces young minds to the outdoors to build independence and self-esteem. Raintree is also a co-founding institution behind the Gateway Children’s Nature Connection, a local coalition devoted to inspiring and educating children through nature. For more information about the school go to: www.undertheraintree.org or call (636) 386-0900.