When Kaitlyn Desrochers was in third grade, she went to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and listened intently as her tour guide told her that bats were dying from white-nose syndrome. Her passion for protecting bats from the deadly disease didn’t stop at the cave entrance. It’s stuck with her for years.
When Kaitlyn got the opportunity to write a book in school about the topic, she jumped on it, partnering with classmate Kennedi Emery.
Now in sixth grade, the girls attend Baden Academy, a charter school in Baden, Pennsylvania. They applied to a leadership program at the school in which students write books on topics they’re passionate about, often enlisting the help of scientists or other mentors.
“Kaitlyn wanted to write about bats and white-nose syndrome, and I knew just the mentor,” said Ellen Cavanaugh, director of the Baden Academy Media Lab.
Cavanaugh remembered listening to a local bat expert and associate professor of biology at Penn State’s Beaver County campus, Cassandra Miller-Butterworth — or “Dr. B.,” as the students call her — speaking at a science march.
Miller-Butterworth, a TWS member, educated the girls about white-nose syndrome, made sure their book was factual and even taught them how to visualize DNA on a gel and how to use a micropipette.
“It was great,” said Miller-Butterworth. “I’ve never done anything like this sort of project before. It was almost entirely driven by them and Ellen.”
With Miller-Butterworth’s help, the girls then set to work on their children’s book, Bats in Danger, which tells the story of Brownie the Bat, whose friends are dying from white-nose syndrome in Pennsylvania.
Kaitlyn said she hopes the book brings awareness about the importance of bats, especially since so many people are afraid of them.
“They’re dying so quickly,” she said, noting their role in eating huge numbers of insects, like mosquitos, that humans consider pests.
Kennedi, who authored a book the year before about bees and colony collapse disorder, said the book contains information about ways to protect bats, including bat houses.
The two hope that people continue to buy their book, promoting it at book fairs and other events. The proceeds go to Bat Conservation International to help fund bat conservation. And their teacher Cavanaugh couldn’t be more proud of them.
“They are amazing,” Cavanaugh said. “They are very passionate about what they’re doing. This is a project they don’t get a grade for. They have to work extra to be in the media lab and have to get good grades. A lot of work goes into the class.”
The girls will be at the upcoming TWS conference in Cleveland, sharing a table with Johns Hopkins Press, to promote their book, which will be available for purchase.
Miller-Butterworth will also be presenting at the conference, but not on bats. She’ll be speaking Thursday about bobcats (Lynx rufus) on Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia, where they had once been extirpated and have since been reintroduced.
Scientists like Miller-Butterworth continue to impress the students. “I’m amazed at how awesome scientists are for working on white-nose syndrome,” Kaitlyn said. “I’m excited for when they figure it out and the bats are saved.”
And Miller-Butterworth is proud of the girls for becoming interested in the bats so early on.
‘I think anything that gets students, particularly girls, into STEM projects at an early age is essential,” she said. “And this is an incredible hands-on way of encouraging students to do the research on a topic that people don’t necessarily know much about.”
She’s particularly happy they took an interest in bats. “Anything that gets information about bats out there, anyone that tells the truth about bats, is great in my book.”
Look for the two girls and their mentor at the upcoming annual TWS conference in Cleveland, and click here to see the book.