A SIBERIAN TIGER and four manatees were part of the fourth-grade classroom of Erica Steele this year.
Endangered animals have become an annual theme in Steele's class.
The animals her pupils choose become a focus for research, writing and reading.
"A lot of my kids who didn't like to read are now grasping for books about tigers," said Steele, who teaches at Spring Garden Elementary.
The pupils netted about $200 from a huge bake sale held last fall and split the proceeds between the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and manatee research institutions.
Their donation allowed them to "adopt" manatees Star, Merlin, Howie and Chessie, all pictured in the classroom reading niche.
As a thank-you for the donation, pupils and parents were recently invited to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Siberian tiger habitat at the National Zoo by animal keepers Brad Blaine and Wayne Millner.
Of the estimated 5,000 tigers in the wild, only 500 are Siberian. Three cubs were born at the zoo in June.
Experts believe the population could rebound if poaching and deforestation cease.
Blaine and Millner were happy the children were involved with the tigers.
And the $100 donation allows them to buy toys for the animals."They plan to buy a big ball for the cubs to play with," said Lauryn Hamm, a pupil.
Blaine and Millner told how the cubs, Mike, Chrissy, and Eric, each fit into paper lunch bags at birth.
Within the year, they grew from 2.5 pounds to 180 pounds, matching the size of the animal keepers.
When mature, they'll weigh 300 pounds, half as much as the Bengal tiger."I was surprised how big the cubs were. The zookeeper said that my 5-year-old brother would be a perfect meal for them," said Laura Nevin, a pupil on the tour.
Pupil Bryan Larrimore, a font of tiger facts, prepared for the tour by viewing a National Geographic video of a tiger pulling an antelope from the water.
Tigers like to swim, and when the cubs first entered the pool, Blaine swam with them.
Father tigers don't teach cubs; they have been known to kill them.
Swimming with tigers is brief and to the point, because the wild nature of tigers doesn't vanish in captivity. Every moving thing is potential food.
Laura was intrigued by their playfulness.
"When the tigers went out to swim during the tour, I saw one cub go down the steps and the other one pulling the first one's tail.
"The mother just dove in," Laura said.
They learned every tiger has a distinct personality, and facial markings that are as unique as a fingerprint, Steele said.
That might be why Karinchi,the cubs' mother, permits some human contact.
The visitors saw a rare glimpse of the keeper's relationship with the tiger as Blaine held her upright, and then scratched her uniquely striped head.
Book cover contest
The art of Kristin Shields of Manchester was chosen as the cover of a book to be released Saturday during Hampstead Day festivities.
The book, written for children by local author Joan Prall, is the story of the near demise and recent restoration efforts of the Hampstead train station.
Prall said her story, "The Little Station That Cried Until Help Arrived," was written for her grandchildren.
Prall has written three books on local history.
"It's about people who were active on the train, how the station operated, and the fact that it was rescued," Prall said.
She asked students of art teacher Joyce Harrison at North Carroll High School to develop a cover.
Prizes will be awarded when the Hampstead Train Station Committee meets at 7 p.m. June 7.
For her stylized cartoon-style work, Shields will receive the top $50 prize, sponsored by Hull & Co. Accountants.
Second prize of $20 will be awarded to Meredith Niles, of Westminster, who drew a sun peeking over the horizon on a desolate train station.
Third prize of $10 will be awarded to Jen A. Crumbaugh of Upperco, who illustrated a station with weedy tracks.
Second- and third-place prizes are sponsored by Farmers and Merchants Bank of Hampstead.
"All the artworks submitted were very interesting," Prall said.
Judges included Suzanne Mancha, Ken Hankins and John Terzano.
Sales of the book will benefit the train station restoration, in which Prall is active.
J&K Graphics covered the cost of printing the book covers.
The book will be available during Hampstead Day at the train committee booth near the War Memorial.
All original artwork submitted for the contest will be on display at the Manchester Town Council chambers starting June 4.
Pat Brodowski's North neighborhood column appears each Wednesday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.