NEWARK — Shue-Medill Middle School students were given a task of Jurassic proportions last month: selecting an official state dinosaur.
Now, after weeks of their research, Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, introduced House Bill 390, which would designate the dryptosauridae as Delaware’s dinosaur.
The dryptosauridae family, which was related to the Tyrannosaurus rex, consisted of birdlike predators during the Cretaceous period. Bones of the species were among the two dinosaur fossils that have been found in Delaware, with the other being from the Hadrosaurus foulkii, which became the state dinosaur of New Jersey. The fossil, found in the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, was identified as dryptosauridae remains years after an initial misidentification several decades ago.
Rep. Baumbach approached the school about choosing the state’s official dinosaur after learning that Delaware had yet to do so, according to Shue-Medill principal Michele Savage. She added that they jumped at the idea.
The research process began in enrichment classes, which challenge students and allow them to participate in interdisciplinary work. Teacher and improvement coach Casey Montigney said all of the school’s enrichment pupils were invited to participate, regardless of grade.
Delaware Museum of Nature & Science collections manager Alex Kittle and its director of collections/curator of mollusks Liz Shea assisted the Shue-Medill students and acted as fact-checkers. Mr. Kittle also presented information on where you can find dinosaur fossils in Delaware and what deposits they come from.
“The dinosaur fossils that are found in Delaware come from deposits that are exposed by the C&D Canal and that area. From pretty much I-95 southward during the time of the dinosaurs would have been covered by shallow sea. It’s really unusual to find dinosaur bones in these types of deposits,” he said.
“So I tried to sort of help steer the students in the direction of helping to identify the type of dinosaur bones that we find here.”
Ms. Montigney said the project has taken on a life of its own.
“We had been meeting with Rep. Baumbach, Alex Kittle and Liz Shea from the museum to fact-check and make sure the kids are on the right track before we were getting too far along, but the kids did great,” she said. “From there, it has become a whole bunch of other projects.”
A smaller group of volunteer students who were active in the process and interested in legislation worked with sixth grade social studies teacher Jo-Ann Slater on the actual bill.
Additionally, senior legislative attorney Deborah Gottschalk visited to help students with the bill’s language and explain how legislation becomes law.
Shue-Medill students helped develop “whereas” clauses within the act to explain their decision, with references to Delaware’s state bird being a blue hen, which prompted the adoption of a birdlike dinosaur. They also noted the link between the dryptosauridae’s speed and Dover Air Force Base, and that the dinosaur provides a reminder of how birds and sea life must be protected.
Additional projects that stemmed from HB 390 included a T-shirt contest to represent the dryptosauridae and a mural featuring the creature. The shirts, which read, “Delaware’s Dino got mad dryp,” were given to students who participated in the selection.
Ms. Savage and Ms. Montigney applauded the museum for its assistance. Mr. Kittle did an excellent job of breaking down the complicated aspects of dinosaurs into language middle schoolers could understand, Ms. Montigney said.
The principal added, “Their part was major because we were getting information from the kids, and what our kids learned was that you can’t always just take stuff from the internet because it’s not always true. So that was actually a part of our learning experience with research. They learned which sites are good, which sites are bad, and that was great. The museum did a great job of clarifying everything we got from the kids.”
On May 11, eighth grade students from Shue-Medill visited Legislative Hall to accompany Rep. Baumbach during HB 390’s hearing in the House Administration Committee. Ms. Savage said she was proud they got to see the inner workings of the General Assembly.
Ms. Montigney agreed, saying the project was right up her alley because of her fascination with politics. She added that it was a fantastic way for the eighth graders to end their year, after a middle school experience marred by the pandemic.
“Going from two years of COVID and battling that in school and figuring out how to navigate mental health and everything else, to then go to something that’s just a really fun and meaningful project for everybody marked a really positive end to the school year,” she said.
Ms. Savage said she was appreciative of Rep. Baumbach and his team for their continued support of Shue-Medill and for providing students with an adventure they will never forget.
“A lot of the time, as educators, we feel like we’re always fighting for things and trying to change public perception of education and what goes on at school. I feel like Paul has really understood our school and all the good that happens here and has realized that our students are capable of some pretty amazing things and knew they could rise to the occasion,” she said.
Ms. Montigney added, “I think this has been a testament to the good that goes on here all the time. A lot of things go unnoticed, but Paul noticed, and he knows there’s a lot of good going on here at Shue.”
HB 390 passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday and has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee for consideration.