By SYEDA FERGUSON | Times Herald (Port Huron)

CROSWELL, Mich. (AP) — Kyle Tubbs’s high school taxidermy class is not for the faint of heart.

On a recent Thursday, students in the science lab at Croswell-Lexington High School teamed up to skin three previously frozen deer heads, a squirrel, and a mink that was found as roadkill. There also are ducks, raccoons, rabbits, muskrats and one skunk on the way.

“Pretty much any animal that can be legally taken in Michigan could end up here,” Tubbs told the Times Herald.

The stand-alone taxidermy class is being offered for the first time this year and has proved to be quite popular among students. The course has 60 students enrolled in two sections, and a few students had to be turned away.

Croswell-Lexington Principal Ryan Cayce said the course is an elective but covers science standards and benchmarks ranging from biology to the physical sciences.

“It’s popular because it is a hands-on, project-based course. We also have many students who are hunters and have a natural interest in this subject area,” Cayce said. “There are very few schools who offer taxidermy curriculum in the state, and Croswell-Lexington is the only one I am aware of in the area.”

Tubbs said the taxidermy course falls well within Michigan’s Next Generation Science Standards, with its emphasis on inquiry-based, hands-on learning and individualized instruction. A certified teacher with a general science major, Tubbs also runs a taxidermy business.

Each student in the class needs to bring in his or her own animal that he either hunted or found dead, including roadkill. Tubbs said about 90 percent of the animals students bring in are from hunting. Students must enter their hunting license numbers in a classroom log for any animals that were shot.

Senior William Bass, 17, brought in a mink with a slightly crushed skull that his girlfriend’s father, a taxidermist, found as roadkill. It had been saved in the freezer for two months.

“He’s in great condition,” Bass said. “He’s going to be (mounted) on a log. His back will be arched a little bit. It might not look the best but I’m going to take it home.”

Students gathered around Hunter Way, 17, as he skinned the head from the eight-point buck he shot during this year’s Youth Hunt.

It was the fourth buck Hunter shot himself but his first time skinning one.

“It’s a little gross. I don’t mind it too much,” he said as he tried to pry the eye loose with the edge of his scalpel.

Students Allie Lingemann and Karra Sharrow said taxidermy was an art form for them. They were among a group of girls huddled around Shannon Kleinke, 15, who was using a scalpel to take the fur off a squirrel. Sophomore Cheyenne Partaka, 15, was taking reference photos of the procedure with an iPad for when the squirrel is mounted.

“I like the experience of recreating life. Even though it’s dead, it can still be alive in a way through art,” said Allie, 15.

“I honestly think it’s really cool because we can re-position the animal. We can do it in a fun, creative way that makes the animal look more lively than what it really is,” Karra, 16, said. “I like the class because it gives us a chance to be creative in a different way and not many schools have that. It gives us a reason to be unique.”

Cros-Lex is the only district in the area offering a high school taxidermy course, one of a few statewide.

Unusual and interesting electives courses offered at other schools include an archaeology course at Marlette High School. Principal Kyle Wood described the course as a way to teach STEM concepts in a real world setting.

“The materials collected are stored here at the school and the final exam for the course is submitting their reports to the state. During the class students also visit U-of-M Ann Arbor and meet with their archaeological department. The larger finds include a blacksmith and original homestead settled on school grounds. Students are now starting to find remains from the original 1898 high school. It is a really unique class with real-world experiences,” Wood said in an email.

Marlette, Marysville, Algonac and Marine City high schools each offer a forensics course in which students use deductive reasoning to complete crime scene investigations.

Marysville also offers a communication arts class that covers reporting, multi-media, and live broadcasting. Superintendent Shawn Wightman said the class is popular with students there.

Marine City offers an engineering course designed for students interested in pursuing careers in engineering, and Algonac offers a sports science elective course.

Capac Community Schools offers an agricultural science program that is unique to St. Clair County, Superintendent Stephen Bigelow said. The district has added to its ongoing program this year. For the first time, eighth-graders can earn six general university credits at Michigan State University upon completion in 12th grade, Bigelow said.

Capac also is running a Microsoft Information Technology Academy at its middle and high schools, in which students become Microsoft-certified upon completion.

Neil Kohler, principal at Brown City Junior/Senior High School, said the district’s long-standing NATEF certified auto mechanic and small engine classes continue to be a “show piece” there.

“We are one of the few districts to offer this locally, as most have their students take it at the (Intermediate School Districts),” Kohler said in an email. “Many of our past graduates will come back and their first request is to go see the auto shop.”

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Information from: Times Herald, http://www.thetimesherald.com