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4th-grader gets frog dissections stopped

Nesconset fourth-grader Gabriel Cruz from the The Ivy

Nesconset fourth-grader Gabriel Cruz from the The Ivy League School in Smithtown helped spearhead a change in the years-old policy on dissecting frogs. (Jan. 10, 2011) Credit: John Griffin

When Gabriel Cruz, a fourth-grader at Ivy League School in Smithtown, told his teachers he did not want to dissect frogs with the rest of his classmates, they didn’t think much of it.

“I thought it was an idea a fourth-grader got into his head and he just did not want to do,” said Myrna Cooper Gartenstein, director of curriculum and instruction at the private school.

That was back in December, Gartenstein said, when talk of the pending dissection, to supplement the biology curriculum, first began. On Tuesday, Gabriel’s class went to a laboratory to dissect the amphibians as planned, and although he was excused, that was hardly the extent of his victory.

Gartenstein said Gabriel, who keeps frogs at home, was initially encouraged to participate. She said his father, a doctor, explained to him that these frogs were bred for science and that there was nothing morally wrong with dissecting them.

“He didn’t really buy that,” Gartenstein said.

What Gartenstein didn’t know in December was that Gabriel had done his homework. He had researched an organization called Save The Frogs, she said, and learned that many species of amphibians have already gone extinct and other species are disappearing. He asked his parents to get onboard by contributing to the organization, and he requested an informational letter from the organization that he could show his teachers.

Gabriel presented the letter to Gartenstein a few days ago. It was too late to cancel the dissections because the school had already ordered the frogs, she said, but the letter convinced her to rethink the school’s curriculum.

"We were simply not aware of all of this," she said. "When the letter came in from the organization, we realized there really was this kind of abuse of these little animals going on."

Beginning next year, she said, Ivy League School will use online programs projected on Smart Boards, in lieu of actual dissections, to teach the basic elements of anatomy. The school will also make a donation to Save The Frogs, she said.

Gartenstein described Gabriel as a “quiet boy,” who one wouldn’t expect to “go around brandishing any kind of cause."

"It does show that a child's calling your attention to something can make a difference," she said.

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