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Ending with a splash and surviving an elementary school sharknado


The author in Destin before Jaws (Photos provided by: Folwell Dunbar)

When we were kids, our parents used to take us to Destin, Florida for summer vacation. Unlike the Louisiana Coast, the sand was white, the water was blue and the horizon was completely free of oilrigs. It was (and still is) pretty amazing. We spent the entire day splashing in the surf. When our parents finally dragged us out of the water for dinner, we were shriveled up like little naked mole rats.

That all changed the year we saw Jaws. After seeing the film, to our parent’s dismay, we refused to step foot in the water – for years!

I can only imagine that my shark “presentation” many years later had a similar effect…

I used to bring animals to schools. I would showcase a different group each month. There were snakes, turtles, raptors, rodents and spiders. I called it, “Mr. Dunbar’s Featured Creature.”

The kids loved it. According to them, “It was like the best show and tell EVER!”

For my final presentation of the year, I brought in sharks. As I told the teachers, “I want to end with a splash!”

True to my word, I did.

Because sharks need salt water, lots of salt water, I couldn’t exactly bring in live specimens. Instead, I had eight large jars of embryos and pups, all swimming in formaldehyde. I loaded the jars, along with teeth, mermaid purses, skins, pictures and models onto a library cart and wheeled it from one class to the next. I wore a shark hat, plastic jaws and blue fin mitts.


Mr. Dunbar’s Featured Creature: A dried bamboo shark (Photos provided by: Folwell Dunbar)

My last presentation of the day was for a combined class of kindergarteners and first graders. Like chum scattered around a charter boat, they had gathered together on the carpeted floor of the school library. They were pumped up like frightened puffer fish.

I was late for the show, so I was pushing the cart a bit faster than the recommended speed in the Teacher Handbook.

As I entered the room, the front casters slammed into the reducer molding, causing the cart to suddenly stop and buck. It tipped over and catapulted its contents into the audience.

The jars exploded like massive Molotov cocktails, spraying the kids with formaldehyde and embryos. The screams were deafening. There were torrents of tears. It was like a scene from Sharknado, or, an entire month of Shark Week condensed into a single, terrifying moment.

Pandemonium spread like lice and the once happy elementary school was forced into lockdown.

The kids were inconsolable. Parents and grandparents were called in to do triage, as counselors and social workers frantically consulted the state’s Crisis Management Manual.


A shark pup in a jar (Photos provided by: Folwell Dunbar)

Like Pee-wee Herman or O.J. Simpson, my fame quickly turned into infamy. Kids and teachers alike glared at me with utter disdain.

A huge asteroid had once again crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, and now all my well-intended “featured creatures” were heading for extinction…

Sitting with the principal at a bar later that night, I joked, “I think I needed a bigger cart!”

He got the reference, but didn’t (couldn’t) laugh.

When I visited the school the following year, I could still sense the terror in the children’s eyes. Walking down the hallway, I could also vaguely make out the score from Jaws, pulsing like a tell-tale heart beneath the floor.


Folwell Dunbar is an educator, artist and Show and Tell enthusiast. Even after the trauma of “Shark Week,” he still believes in the value of teaching with animals. He can be reached at




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