PONTIAC, Ill. (WMBD) — Whether it’s encouraging a conversation around conservation or working to reintroduce alligator snapping turtles, this Pontiac high school teacher goes beyond classroom basics.

“Where there were zero, now there are 650 [snapping turtles],” said Pontiac High School Science teacher, Paul Ritter. “We’ve done that for a little over nine years now. We have worked with the department of natural resources to raise and reintroduce a species of reptile, the alligator snapping turtle, back into its native home range.”

Paul Ritter’s been educating students for almost three decades. He’s helped to create the Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal Program. It all started as a way to raise awareness and reduce the number of pharmaceuticals in the water supply.

“It’s hard to believe a student project out of a classroom in corn town the USA is responsible for not only a national model for pharmaceutical disposal but a global model,” said Ritter. “We’ve done a little over 7.5 million pounds of pharmaceuticals [recovered] in the last ten years.”

Ritter also encourages his students to lobby for change at the state level. Pontiac high schoolers led the charge by creating Operation Endangered Species to protect 30% of the world’s land and water by 2030.

“Kids don’t know the meaning of no,” said Ritter. “They won’t take no for an answer and so, as a result of that, they get a lot of things done that other people just struggle with. To think about Illinois being a leader in the conservation of 30% of land and water by 2030… when other states have not been able to do that… is transformative as a country.”

Pontiac’s principal said Ritter’s dedication to the school and students puts the city in the spotlight.

“We want to do great things here so they do find out about us,” said Principal Eric Bohm. “I think that what [Paul] has done and what our kids have done, under [Paul’s] leadership they have put us on the map and it’s something that we need to be very proud of.”

Ritter said he’s proud to show kids there’s a science path in everyday life and not just in a lab.

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