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Crafton students get caught up in sea rescue and TV coverage

Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

When Crafton Elementary School English teacher Susan Kosko partnered with a dolphin-excursion team in Florida for weekly Skype sessions with her English classes, she never imagined it would lead to a harrowing rescue and a primetime television interview.

Kosko discovered The Dolphin Explorer's excursion on Marco Island in Florida during a family vacation. She said she wanted her children to be able to see the dolphins, so she took the family on the boating excursion.

“They talked about it all year,” she said. “The couldn't stop talking about it, and I realized they were getting more from this than I thought they would.”

The next year, when the family went back, they took the boating excursion again.

“For whatever reason, I went up to Capt. Chris (Desmond), the founder of the program,” she said. “I thanked him for the educational trip.”

During the course of the conversation, Desmond happened to mention he was working on a program that took dolphin lessons into the classroom via online video conferencing. Kosko said she was disappointed at first; the lessons would be great for a science teacher, but she could not find a connection with reading lessons.

“On the plane ride home, I found the ‘Dolphin Tale' junior novel,” she said. “I just stumbled upon it, and it just kind of clicked. I could use this in the classroom.”

Starting in the 2011-12 school year, Desmond and his crew would use Skype to communicate with the students in Kosko's classes, who were reading about dolphins. Kosko said it took off like wildfire.

In late 2011, one of the dolphins in the Marco Island area that Desmond and his crew routinely tracked, Seymour, became entangled in a fishing net. He got free, but a piece of the net cut into his skin, which left him hurt and with scar tissue. Desmond and his crew were worried that Seymour had sustained a life-threatening injury. They needed to catch him and examine him to make sure.

The students were nervous.

“They stopped me at one point and said, ‘We need to help Seymour,'” Kosko said. “I said, ‘Well, how are we going to help from Pittsburgh?' and they decided they would raise funds.”

Kosko asked the children how money would help Seymour. They told her Seymour would need food to eat when Desmond and his team caught him. That kicked off months of schoolwide fundraising.

They raised $1,200 through several events. Half went to Desmond and his team. Half went to the school's anti-bullying program.

On March 9, 2012, Desmond and his crew tracked and captured Seymour. They were able to cut away the fishing line and use a portable X-ray machine to check for more serious injuries. Seymour had healed and was able to be returned to the water. More than 30 people took part in the seek-and-find mission.

And Kosko and her students got to watch it all unfold via Skype.

The months of planning and waiting left the students worried.

“With each passing month, the kids were getting more anxious,” she said.

Kosko has footage of the classroom on the day of the rescue.

“Looking back at old footage — you don't realize it at the time, but the room was very quiet,” she said. “We didn't know how it was going to end. The kids were on the edge of their seats, wondering, ‘Is he going to be OK?'

“I didn't realize how much it affected them until I looked back.”

On Oct. 25, Kosko and her students had the chance to tell their story — this time, to the world.

Aiden Pickering, executive producer of the ABC show “Sea Rescue,” caught wind of the story and arranged for Kosko and her students to be interviewed for an episode focusing on Seymour's rescue. Kosko said the number of people involved in the rescue caught the attention of the producers.

She said the prospect of being in front of the camera was nerve-racking.

“I'm not even in home movies,” she said. “I'm always the one holding the camera.”

She said she was willing to move past that fear in order to help the Dolphin Explorer.

“This program can do so much for kids, I just had to get outside my comfort zone,” she said. “I want to help in any way possible.”

The children were eager, she said, but just as nervous.

“They were excited,” she said. “But I think they were just as taken aback by everything unfolding that day as I was.”

She said she made sure the children knew the magnitude of this, though.

“I impressed upon them how great and unique this experience is for them as students,” she said.

Crafton Elementary is the only school so far to be featured on “Sea Rescue” and to have a chance to help the Dolphin Explorer excursion program.

Film crews spent the day capturing footage of the school and filmed one of Kosko's classes doing a Dolphin Explorer-related lesson. They also did one-on-one interviews with some of the students.

“Sometimes, kids — it's hard for them to realize that ‘this is it,'” she said. “I made them aware that this is our chance now for everyone to see all the fun learning they're having.”

The Crafton Elementary episode of “Sea Rescue” is slated to air sometime in the spring.

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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