Many children ask their parents to buy them a pet: dogs, ferrets and even potbellied pigs are common pleas. Sometimes the wish list includes a species of rabbit, turtle or salamander that is illegal to own. Cottontail rabbits, bog turtles and salamanders, for instance, are outlawed as pets in Pennsylvania.
Knowing which animals are legal to raise as pets can be complicated, and this bothers Joshua Kulak. Why not teach kids what to wish for right from the get-go, thought the Germantown Friends High School junior from Philadelphia who volunteers in Outside In.
Josh put his thoughts into action this summer and created a simple matching game involving cards, common-animal pictures and information that young kids can play when they visit the Academy’s popular hands-on nature center Outside In. Last month he was rewarded for his creativity when Carol and Art Silverman presented Josh with the 2019 Cheryl Beth Silverman Award.
The Silvermans also were honored at the Oct. 29 ceremony with the unveiling of an inviting, brightly lettered sign suspended from the ceiling of the room’s discovery nook beckoning: Cheryl Beth Silverman HANDS-ON LAB.
The Silvermans, of Warminster, Pa., have been integral to the mission and soul of Outside In since 1989 when they established the Silverman Award in commemoration of their late daughter who was passionate about nature, children and the environment. Each year exceptional Outside In volunteers of high school age compete for the prestigious award by creating games and other useful and educational projects that benefit the younger museum visitors.
One of those volunteers is Josh, 17, a passionate, articulate animal lover who has volunteered over 650 hours of his young life in Outside In and attended just about every Academy summer camp since he became of age. He had been reading about the multibillion-dollar illegal wildlife trade, which includes illicit sales of live animals for pets. Something clicked.
“I saw something in the summer I had not seen before—a tremendous opportunity for education on pet choices, raising illegal pets and the wildlife trade,” Josh said. “I hope this game will spark some good conversations.”
“I was blown away,” said Carol Silverman, and so was Josh when he got to shake hands with the Silvermans at the award presentation.
As they say at the Academy, it’s never too early (or late!) to learn. Josh has a winter internship lined up at the Duke Lemur Center on the campus of Duke University and plans to pursue “something related to zoology” in college.
Meanwhile, next time you’re in the Academy, make sure to stop by Outside In and ask to see his new pet project.
To read about the recipient of the 2018 Cheryl Beth Silverman Award, visit the Academy Blog.
By Carolyn Belardo
Photos by Ramon Torres