It might be part of the human condition--we can be surrounded by magnificence and bounty in nature, but can’t always recognize or appreciate its value. Sometimes it takes a visitor or outsider to help us appreciate and protect that which we take for granted, because it has always been part of our surroundings.
And on behalf of frogs and toads in the Andes, four St. Vrain Valley students have taken on that role of educating outsider, creating an environmental comic book to help remote Peruvian villagers understand, appreciate and protect these fast-disappearing essential creatures.
Hailing from two different St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD) schools--Niwot High and Mead High--the students are a professional working team based at the SVVSD Innovation Center(IC). Created solely by the students, the comic book was born after Emma Steigerwald, a PhD candidate from UC Berkeley, approached Axel Reitzig, the IC robotics director, and Cara Robbins, the student lead.
As part of her doctoral project, Steigerwald wanted to create a comic that she could distribute to local Peruvians. The country is filled with thousands of rare and unique species, but currently 389 of those are threatened. Of those, 120 are endangered amphibians. Factors such as habitat loss and degradation, invasive species, and illegal wildlife trade all contribute to the rapid loss of these endangered creatures.
Reitzig and Robbins assembled the team of students, and while the students received guidance from adults on various topics when needed, the creation of the comic was in their hands.
Robbins, a junior at Niwot High School (NHS), was the team lead, storyboarder and colorist for the project. The other team members include Lily Herring, NHS senior, who did the digital inking, lettering, and was also a colorist and storyboarder; Adah McMillan, a Mead High sophomore who was the writer and editor; and Pamela Tseng, a NHS senior who was also a storyboarder and colorist.
Their finished project is Our Neighbors, Frog and Toad. Set in Peru’s Cordillera Vilcanota mountain range, the comic features environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity, and the debunking of common myths about the wildlife.
Focusing on three species of amphibians: telmatobius marmoratus, rhinella spinulosa, and the marbled four-eyed frog, these one to two-page stories are told through both the animals themselves and the children who live in the region.
In March 2019, Our Neighbors, Frog and Toad made its debut when Steigerwald travelled to Peru with 500 copies printed in Spanish and English. The comic has garnered positive feedback from young Peruvians, which has fueled the team’s plans for future distribution.