Franklin Tech students find their ‘snake zen’ with reptile visit

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 01-19-2023 7:57 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Reptile specialists visiting Franklin County Technical School relished watching grimaces turn into smiles Thursday afternoon as students got acquainted with their cold-blooded critters.

“Everybody’s scared of a snake,” said Brenda Casillas, who co-founded the Morphs & Milestones herpetology education organization with her husband, Nathan Romanski-Monty. “They look at a snake and go, ‘Ew, they don’t have legs and it slithers.’ Then, you realize they have feelings.”

“It’s exposure, and I think exposure brings knowledge, and I think knowledge beats fear,” Romanski-Monty added.

Morphs & Milestones, which had visited Franklin Tech twice before, returned to the school’s veterinary science class on Thursday for the debut visit of New England Herpetological Society Web Sales Director Kimberly Alpert. Together, the three experts introduced the class to a team of reptile “ambassadors” highlighted by a spotted python, the third smallest python species in the world, and a red tegu, a large South American lizard. The animals were not shy, even willfully approaching students when set down on the floor to move on their own accord.

“Students don’t oftentimes get exposure to these types of animals,” said Kim Barry, a veterinary science instructor at Franklin Tech. “Whether in daily life you’re seeing a snake in your yard versus working in a veterinary facility, having that exposure is pretty important.”

“Whether this was a technical school with a program or not, I think everyone should be exposed to the animals of our world because if you don’t engage with it … then you’re not going to know why you should protect it,” Alpert commented.

Casillas and Romanski-Monty founded Morphs & Milestones after using reptiles as a means of bonding with their nonverbal daughter, Autumn Rose. Having observed their child blossom intellectually through learning about — and connecting with — these creatures, the duo hopes to tap into other people’s potential through similar means.

“I call it ‘snake zen,’ which probably sounds cheesy, but … you’re seeing now everybody excited and everybody feeling good,” Romanski-Monty said, adding that inspiring “aha moments,” particularly for people with special needs, have fueled his drive.

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“I hope everybody gets to have the love that we do,” Casillas said.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.

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