Kevin Golden feeds the turtles who live in the habitat that he built in the STEM Lab at Buchanan-Verplanck Elementary School.

BUCHANAN — If you ask people in Buchanan-Verplanck Elementary School (BVES) about Kevin, they’re guaranteed to ask which Kevin you’re talking about.

You have CSEA member Kevin Golden, the night custodian who spends his evenings doing needed upkeep so students and staff return to a clean building the next morning.

Then there’s the other Kevin. He’s usually pretty reserved, but you might say Kevin Golden has helped him come out of his shell. 

“Kevin’s a 30-year-old Eastern Painted turtle,” said Golden, a Hendrick Hudson School District Unit member. “I was part of the first kindergarten class to go through this school when it opened in 1972, but Kevin’s been here more years than I have.”

Upgrading housing

As far back as when he was a student at BVES, Golden is a longtime reptile enthusiast with a knack for undertaking creative projects. Knowing that the teacher who’s cared for Kevin for years is involved with growing the school’s burgeoning science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum, Golden thought the time was right to give Kevin’s digs a bit of an upgrade.

“With the teacher’s support, I asked the principal if I could build a turtle habitat and she approved it,” said Golden. “I think she was probably envisioning something like a fish tank. Kevin had been staying in a large wash basin.”

Kevin the Turtle and a friend enjoy the habitat that CSEA member Kevin Golden built.

It turns out Golden had a grander vision. For four months, he worked on the project for several hours each morning before heading to work. When the project was complete, Golden installed it in the school’s STEM lab over a weekend.

“When I got to work the next Monday, I heard the principal came around the corner that morning and was shocked,” said Golden.

Kevin received quite the upgrade in his housing situation: a 10 by 12-foot turtle habitat with a pond, filtration system and decorative touches that conjure up thoughts of an actual outdoor pond. He also gained some company with the addition of five other turtles.

Classes at BVES have taken turns visiting the turtle habitat, which is set up in the school’s STEM lab and fits into the program’s curriculum, creating opportunities to learn about engineering, volumes, building and more. 

Going the extra mile

Word got out about the two Kevins and News 12 soon came to the school to do a feature for their daily newscast. There’s even talk of them returning soon to use the habitat one day as a backdrop for their live weather updates. 

Golden said he never expected news of the turtle habitat to go beyond the school. The fanfare has caught him a bit off-guard.

“I did it for the kids to enjoy,” said Golden. “We didn’t have STEM classes when I was a student here, but we did have a whole lot of great teachers who were creative with learning. This is a way for me to honor those teachers.”

CSEA Hendrick Hudson School District Unit President Ed Tandy said Golden’s creativity and willingness to go the extra mile come as no surprise.

“During the pandemic, Kevin also built a stage that they were able to use outdoors for graduation,” said Tandy. “He does all of this on his own time to benefit the kids.”

Hendrick Hudson School District Unit Vice President Sandi Clausen echoed those thoughts.

“I grew up with Kevin, so I know he’s always been into animals and wildlife and he’s always built some elaborate projects,” said Clausen. “This is his passion. He’s done this out of his own pocket and he loves being able to share his knowledge with the kids.”

As for the other Kevin, it turns out that an old turtle can learn new tricks. The new pond marks the first time Kevin has been in water deeper than his previous home, so he’s developing swimming and diving skills, slowly becoming more confident with his newfound freedom. 

His back legs had atrophied somewhat due to him not previously swimming much, so Golden even installed small ramps that allow Kevin to access the stones in the middle of the pond. He’s also adjusting to being around the other turtles Golden added to the pond, all part of giving Buchanan-Verplanck Elementary School’s beloved turtle a chance at a more normal life.

“He started out paddling around like a dog, not using his hind legs, and now he’s going where the rest of the turtles are,” said Golden. “He’s going back to being a turtle again.”

— Jessica Ladlee


About Author

Jessica Ladlee is the communications specialist for CSEA's Southern Region. A graduate of Boston University, Ladlee is an award-winning journalist who worked as a newspaper editor before joining the CSEA communications team in 2004. She is passionate about the opportunities unions provide for people to join the middle class, something her grandmother did as a Rockland County CSEA member over 50 years ago.

Comments are closed.