Edelman Fossil Park hosts program for visually impaired students

Edelman Fossil Park hosts program for visually impaired students

Ted Schmidt

The Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park at Rowan University hosted a program Aug. 16 for 15 blind and visually impaired elementary school students from around southern New Jersey.

Working in conjunction with the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Cherry Hill, Rowan educators modified a popular fossil program to make it more tactile and accessible.

The morning program included a lesson with 3D printed models and casts of actual, 65 million year old fossils from the park, followed by a dig in the pit.

“Because the goal of the fossil park is to make science accessible, it is important to make sure that obstacles students may have do not impair their accessibility to discovery,” said Heather Simmons, the park’s associate director for external affairs. “We used the exact same curriculum we use for sighted students except for the fact that it was more tactile.”

A former marl quarry in Mantua Township, the fossil park is a working paleontology lab that also hosts student and adult community members with an interest in citizen science.

During the Cretaceous period, the heyday of the dinosaurs, the park would have been approximately 65 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean so all fossils found there derived from marine life.

Simmons said all of the students taking part in Wednesday’s program discovered fossils, including one who found a nearly two-inch long shark’s tooth.

“She knew right away it was a shark’s tooth,” Simmons said. “It was pointy, and sharp and rigid, obviously a tooth."

The fossil park this year was endowed with a $25 million commitment from Rowan alumni Jean and Ric Edelman and is ramping up programming in advance of the planned 2020 opening of a museum, welcome center and dinosaur-themed playground.

The park’s director, world-renowned paleontologist Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, is the discoverer of 85-foot long Dreadnoughtus schrani, one of the largest animals ever to walk the earth.