Students get a lesson on pigeons from unlikely teacher

Students at Thorpe Gordon Elementary in Jefferson City Friday took a break from their regular classroom work to learn about homing pigeons...from an unlikely teacher.

Larry Terwilliger enjoys his job, working among hundreds of tiny faces. And Friday morning Terwilliger, or Mr. Larry as the kids call him, shared his hobby with the students at Thorpe Gordon Elementary. Mr. Larry has trained homing pigeons for about two years now and before winter sets in, he brings them here to Thorpe Gordon for one last show.

"I just like to see them light up when they see the birds or I walk about the birds," said Mr. Larry.

Homing pigeons have the natural ability to find their way home, no matter how far away they're released. And twice weekly training from Mr. Larry sharpens that ability. His racing birds compete in contests all year. They are released and race one another back home, a distance that ranges from 70 to 300 miles per contest.

"Its just neat how they can fly home without guidance or whatever," said Thorpe Gordon student Lee Liddell. "And Mr. Larry was just telling me the group that went that way were babies and they've never flown by themselves, so that was pretty cool."

But the students aren't just here for the show.

"It also is an excellent opportunity to work on math calculations for speed and distance. Its great for creative writing. Its wonderful for doing artwork. It really motivates and inspires the students," said Thorpe Gordon Principal Suzanne Wilson. "And it really builds a great connection between Larry and the students."

And that's exactly what makes Mr. Larry's day. That and his break from the broom. Every other day Mr. Larry serves as Thorpe Gordon's school custodian.

"It gets kind of monotonous, you know, once in a while, sweeping floors and just the everyday routine," said Mr. Larry. "This just kind of breaks the monotony of that routine. I look forward to it every year."

Terwilliger says he lives about two minutes from the school and it would only take his pigeons two minutes to return home. Thorpe Gordon students then used that information to calculate how fast the pigeons traveled.