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Newport students’ project leads to naming of state fossil

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Posted: Saturday, June 29, 2013 11:45 pm

NEWPORT — A Newport Middle School eighth-grade science and social studies project has led to the naming of the fossilized teeth of a prehistoric shark as the state fossil.

After researching fossils found in North Carolina as part of a science project in December 2012, eighth-graders took the project one step further by having a competition to select a fossil to try and have named the state fossil.

Science students created displays based on what they thought the state fossil should be. Students voted Jan. 11 for the Megalodon, which was a huge prehistoric shark with 7-inch teeth.

Social studies teacher Gary Abell then contacted Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, with their idea. This legislative session Rep. McElraft introduced Megalodon teeth as the state fossil as part of House Bill 830, which names several state symbols.

After passing both the House and Senate, Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law Wednesday.

Mr. Abell said he was proud of the students and enjoyed working on the project.

“It was real unique to have the sciences and social studies integrated,” he said during a telephone interview Thursday. “I know some of the kids may be a little disappointed because they had actually wanted the shark named the state fossil. But that was just too big so going through the legislative process they decided on the shark’s teeth.”

Eighth-grade science teacher Donna Jones, who came up with the idea for the project, also praised her students and efforts of those who helped.

“I’m very excited and I’m very proud of our students. They worked very hard and had to work as a team. And hats off to Mr. Abell,” she said.

Rep. McElraft said she was glad to help the students accomplish their goal.

“They really did all the work and research,” she said. “I’m just happy I was able to get it through for them.”

Students involved with the project said they’re proud to be part of naming a state symbol.

“I feel it was a great accomplishment,” said 14-year-old Nicklas Jones. “I thought the Megalodon shark would be a great symbol because it stands for our state’s strong history.”

Sergio Zaldivar-Carrillo, 13, agreed.

“It feels great because you get to be a part of history and know that you did something for your state,” he said.

Elyssa-Beth Kimball, 14, too said she felt a sense of accomplishment.

“It was really exciting. It was a lot of work. I’m just surprised that my group led to the naming of a state fossil.”

Brendan McKee, 14, said, “I think it’s great to get to do something in school that now becomes a part of the state.”

Other suggestions that students had considered for the state fossil during their competition were the sand dollar, starfish, coral, Mosasaur (reptile) and sea urchin.

As for the Megalodon, it’s Greek name means “big tooth.” Not only was it the biggest prehistoric shark, it was the biggest predatory marine creature in the history of the planet, outweighing both modern great white sharks and ancient reptiles, according to dinosaurs.about.com.

The teeth of this prehistoric shark were more than half a foot long, serrated, and heart-shaped (by comparison, the biggest teeth of a great white shark are only about 3-inches long).

Other state symbols adopted under HB 830 are: state frog, the pine barrens tree frog; state salamander, the marbled salamander; state marsupial, Virginia opossum; state folk art, whirligigs created by Vollis Simpson; and state art medium, clay.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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