Stephanie Bradford stands in front of Tanana Middle School in Fairbanks, Alaska, Friday, Sept. 17, 2004, holding a pair of moose eyeballs, left, and a moose heart she collected. Bradford is collecting the organs from local hunters to donate to her 12-year-old daughter's school for the seventh grade students to dissect.
AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Mi
ANCHORAGE Let others dissect only frogs in science class. Stephanie Bradford also wants the hearts and eyes of moose, caribou and bear.
The Fairbanks woman is collecting the organs from local hunters to donate to her 12-year-old daughter's school. She wouldn't turn down halibut eyeballs, either.
''It doesn't matter what the animal is,'' Bradford said. ''We'll take what people donate.''
So far, a half-dozen people have pledged animal parts from moose, caribou, even a cow, Bradford said after picking up a couple of frozen moose eyeballs about the size of pingpong balls. Donations also include another set of moose eyes and three moose hearts organs not seen in other schools, according to the National Science Teachers Association in Arlington, Va.
Like many residents of Alaska's Interior, Bradford lives in a hunting household. She's also a former high school English teacher. So her idea naturally evolved as her daughter, Megan, began attending Tanana Middle School.
''I remember when I did dissection in seventh grade and my daughter is now in seventh grade. I thought, 'Hey, I can do this,''' Bradford said.
She e-mailed her daughter's science teacher, Donna Knutson, asking if she would have any use for eyeballs or hearts. Would she ever!
''Only a science teacher would get excited about that,'' Knutson said. ''It was totally the mom's idea. Plus she knows our budget's been cut pretty bad.''
A decade ago, each of the school's six science teachers had a $2,000 yearly budget for special expenses such as dissection supplies, Knutson said. Now four science teachers split a total budget of $2,400. Of that, $600 goes toward buying 160 frogs to be cut up by pairs of seventh-graders. It's a necessary expense, Knutson said. The exercise is too important and popular among some students to eliminate. Twelve-year-old Ilaura Reeves, for one, can't wait to cut into frogs or big game. In second grade, she enjoyed a salmon dissection project.
''We took all the eggs from the girl salmon and fertilizing stuff from the boy salmon,'' she said. ''I like to dissect. I'm ready to discover new things and how other animals work and how their lives work.''
Her classmate, Julia Parrish, is ''grossed out'' by the idea.
''I don't like to mess with dead things,'' the 12-year-old said. ''I plan to have Ilaura as my partner so she can do it all.''
Two years ago, the school nurse donated the heart of a moose her son had shot. Students were mesmerized by the heart, which was the size of a five-pound bag of sugar.
''Organ donations are basically gravy,'' Knutson said. ''They add something else kids can work on and hold in their hands.''
The National Science Teachers Association said it had never heard of using big game parts for classroom dissections.
''Big game would be very uncommon,'' said Anne Tweed, president of the association, which has 55,000 individual and institutional members in the United States and abroad.
''This is certainly a case that is more particular to that part of the country. It's interesting to me when people are able to use local resources, especially rural areas that don't have access to the same resources found in more urban areas.''
Some teachers in Western states use beef and sheep organs readily available from packing houses or other sources. When budgets are tight, others make do with chicken wings or computer-simulated frogs, Tweed said.
Longtime hunter Craig Anderson is among those donating to the Fairbanks school, in his case the eyes of a moose he shot Sept. 10. Hunters commonly leave the head in the field, but Anderson carried this one out because he planned to have it mounted.
Then he learned a mount would cost more than he had figured. Soon after, Bradford issued her call for organs. Anderson said he would have given her the animal's heart, too, but it was destroyed by the rifle shot through the ribs.
''Nobody had ever had a request like that, but both my daughters attended the school. It's a good school,'' Anderson said. ''So I dug out the eyes and took a whole bunch out, including the optic nerves and some fat. Hey, let's get these kids going on science.''
Even Bradford's husband, Kevin Gildow, got in on the act, promising the eyes and hearts of any caribou shot during a recent hunting trip with a friend.
But they were unable to make good on that promise, despite killing two caribou.
''They actually harvested the two hearts and four eyeballs and set them aside,'' Bradford said. ''But a fox raided their camp and ate everything it could easily reach, including the organs.''
Bradford said she wishes she had launched her scientific quest earlier rather than near the end of the hunting season. With winter creeping up, she's been forced to get creative.
A big game processor is on the lookout for customers who kept the coveted organs. Alaska State Troopers are notifying charities that salvage meat from roadkill. Trooper Lt. Lee Farmer has asked wildlife enforcement troopers to spread the word to hunters. It's the best he can do.
''I'm not a hunter,'' Farmer said. ''I just do a lot of stalking of chicken breasts at Safeway.''
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