Exploring Cryptozoology in Upper School

What if the last great frontier was, in fact, still our own backyard? Dr. Peoples-Marwah and her class investigate some of the stranger sciences.
Cryptids — animals which may or may not exist — are (or perhaps are not) all around us. You'll find one in every culture — Nessie (aka the Loch Ness Monster) in Scotland, the Jersey Devil in (obviously) New Jersey, the Chupacabra in Latin America. In most parts of the North American continent, the one you'll hear about most often is Bigfoot (or Sasquatch, or simply, as a species, sasquatch), a mysterious shadow who many believe to be an ape-like creature carefully cavorting around forests and leaving little evidence besides a lasting impression in the minds of those who are fortunate enough to report a close encounter.

As part of her elective "A Folkloric and Historical Investigation of Cryptozoology," Dr. Andrea Peoples-Marwah invited renowned anthropologist and Sasquatch researcher Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum to share some of his knowledge and first-hand experience of the creature. Dr. Jeff Meldrum is a professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University whose research centers on the evolution of hominin bipedalism, our adaptations for walking on two feet. Like many, his first exposure to Bigfoot was through the controversial Patterson-Gimlin film cataloging a sasquatch named "Patty," which he saw in theaters with his father and brother in 1967. Beginning with discussing the iconic frame from the film and moving into other intricacies of the hunt for decisive evidence concerning Bigfoot, Dr. Meldrum had much to offer Upper Schoolers when it came to food for thought.
Dr. Meldrum has been looking for Bigfoot and his kin since 1996, when he personally personally examined a line of 15-inch tracks in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington. More than 24 years later, his lab holds more than 300 such footprint casts from around the world. This gives him ample knowledge to answer student questions, not just about his own experience with the creature, but with histories and sightings from different places, cultures, and times.

His interest doesn't simply stem from tracks and other physical evidence left behind. When asked by Jack F. (US2) if he had ever personally had an experience with such a creature, his answer was compelling.

"Oh yes, I believe I have," he said. "I've found footprints on half a dozen occasions, and I've heard vocalizations a couple times."

Dr. Meldrum then revisited one encounter in particular on an expedition in Northern California, just over the mountain ridge from where the Patterson-Gimlin film was shot. "Something came into our camp. We heard vocalizations around 2 a.m., and 20 minutes later I was awoken by the sound of something walking, or more accurately feeling the heavy impact of something with very padded feet walking. Then it proceeded to open backpacks and start to rifle through the contents. The area was completely fogged in. When we got out of our tents, I think there were two of them, they made a sound like clacking their teeth or knocking two rocks together. They walked past the tent, brushing against the rainfly. We heard them run away from us, and all they had left behind was footprints."

"Are these creatures aggressive?" Dr. Peoples-Marwah asked to follow up.

"Any time you’re in the woods, whether it’s a bear or a Bigfoot, when there’s an animal like that…you need to show the proper deference and caution. I don’t think we should be afraid," he said.

The discussion then moved towards speculation about how a Bigfoot or similar creature might be discovered. Dr. Meldrum posited two outcomes: an accidental shooting by a hunter or unfortunate roadside collision, or DNA evidence. In fact, he said, scientific procedures around DNA collection are getting more sophisticated all the time — there have recently been cases of "environmental DNA" extracted from places like Loch Ness. Either way, the message was clear: the truth is out there, and Dr. Meldrum is going to keep looking, hopefully joined by some newly curious citizen scientists from Mirman School.
A Horse With No Name No More
from the 2018-2019 Meridian 

After the school rebranded a few years ago, Athletic Director Angela Brown felt that something was missing. While new uniforms were donned for the first day of school, new signs were hung around campus, and a new website launched to accompany refreshed marketing materials, the font-forward design left something to be desired when it came to truly raising team spirit to the power of Mirman. 

In a school where more than half of the student body participates in some form of competitive athletics, and on a campus where a significant expansion created pristine courts and fields upon which one can cheer on several teams on any given day, Brown saw opportunity and sensed desire to elevate the program. After working with Jenn Salcido, Director of Marketing and Communications, and Noah Kaufman, Director of Advancement, the school’s branding was expanded to include a strong, confident (though K-8-appropriate) steed. New universal uniforms, sweatsuits, and swag followed suit. 

“It’s a truly exciting time for athletics at Mirman,” said Brown. “It’s a sense of pride that you can see and feel. It’s almost like we’ve arrived. You could have taken a snapshot of the students in their old uniforms, and then with their new ones with the names on the back. It’s a rallying cry. You can see the pride on their faces.”  

Finally, everyone could don uniforms featuring their own names writ large. Everyone except, of course, the horse. Everyone knew we had a mascot — you’d see the nameless Mustang trotted out for the occasional assembly or championship bout — but nobody really knew the mascot. 

What if the community could help change that? 

Last fall, Brown and her colleagues in the Physical Education department introduced a contest at an all-school assembly. The objective: not only to name the Mustang, but to tell the mascot’s story. Over the course of a 6-day cycle, ballots were collected from every grade level in both divisions. With Salcido’s help, Brown and Assistant to the Athletic Director Alyssa Woods tallied the results. 

The judges carefully considered the entries, assessing them on an unwritten rubric including points for overall catchiness, gender-neutrality, universal appeal, and other considerations. As the dust settled, one clear winner emerged: Rider. In retrospect, it seemed rather obvious. The school had only recently unveiled its Core Values (Responsibility, Integrity, Discovery, Empathy, and Resilience). And as equine monikers go, Rider makes a certain degree of sense. The name was revealed with much aplomb at an all-school assembly, with Rider trotting out on stage to show off a newly-minted personalized jersey. 

The winning entry belonged to Room 4L students Victoria A. and Amelie S., who soon revealed that they had a little help from their friends, specifically former Room 4L co-teacher and current Librarian Allison Sparks. 

“We had just had a community circle in class talking about the Core Values,” said Sparks. “This was something new to me as a new member of the Mirman community. When I asked the class out loud if they’d considered Rider for the Mustang name, a few of the students wanted to suggest it.” 

“I laughed it off and dismissed the idea,” Sparks admitted. “I thought that since it had come from an adult, it wouldn’t count. But when I saw how excited they were when they submitted it, I knew the name rang true. It really came out of an ‘a ha’ moment we had together as a class. 

“It relates so much to our school and Core Values and helps us make sure we’re always doing the right thing,” said Victoria A. of the new name. 

“It’s amazing to be part of our school history,” added Amelie S. 

The two girls, who themselves represent Mirman on the basketball court and soccer fields as part of the Room 4 teams, admitted that, like many great ideas, their first iteration didn’t ring quite as true. “I think we wanted to do mustard,” said Victoria. 

“Or mayonnaise,” said Amelie. 

As it turns out, most things do get better with teamwork. 

Like any ballot box, this one was not without its curiosities once opened up. Here were a few of the voting trends: 
  • More than a few students wanted to name the Mustang after themselves or their classmates 
  • One entry suggested “Vegan” 
  • “Uncle Grandpa” popped up more than a few times, much to the confusion of one judge. It was revealed upon further investigation that this is in fact an affectionate nickname for Coach Allen Foster. 
  • Regarding “The Mysterious Moose:” decidedly not a horse, but good alliteration. 

A Biography of Rider 
By Victoria A. and Amelie S., Room 4L 
(with editorial assistance from an anonymous magazine editor) 
Once upon a time, a beautiful horse was born. He* shook himself and stood up, curious about the world around him. He began to walk through the forest, stopping every so often to grab some fruit from a tree. After a while, he came upon a group of two little girls and their teacher walking through the woods.

“Hi horse! What’s your name?” the little girl asked. 

“I don’t have a name, actually. What’s yours?” the horse answered. 

“Woah, I can actually understand you,” said the little girl. “That’s so cool!” 

The girls and their teacher spoke with the horse a while longer, introducing themselves and getting to know each other. They wondered aloud why the horse didn’t have a name. 

“I just haven’t thought of one yet,” he said. “I’ve only just been born!” 

The trio brainstormed about names for a while, but then got sidetracked with what they all wanted to be when they grew up. “Do you have any ideas,” asked the teacher?” 

“I want to be a head of school!” one of the girls said. “And my school will need to have Core Values, but I don’t know what those should be.” 

“Maybe I can help you,” volunteered the horse. 

“You need to have responsibility,” began the teacher. “And integrity.” 

“And empathy for other horses!” said the horse. 

“We’ll need to discover things along the way!” said the other girl. 

“And you’ll need some resilience,” the horse finished. 

Suddenly, the trio and the horse looked at one another. “How would you feel if we called you Rider in honor of those core values?” asked the teacher. 

By now, you know how this story ends — happily ever after, surrounded by the cheering crowds. 

*while Rider is a male horse in this story, we know from his biographers that he really can be any gender! Everyone can and should be able to identify with Rider. 
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