Blackboard meets jungle

Lesson: Elementary school pupils celebrate Rain Forest Day by re-creating a jungle inside their school.

Ellicott City

May 30, 2000|By Diane Mikulis | Diane Mikulis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Under a canopy of vines and greenery, snakes wove their way between trees, poison-dart frogs rested on the ground, monkeys hung from limbs and colorful butterflies perched in the branches. In a clearing, dozens of children gathered to learn about creatures of the rain forest.

These 8- and 9-year-olds weren't in the wilds of Brazil, but in the third-grade area at Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School in Ellicott City. While the animals in the foliage were all plastic, rubber or stuffed, those brought to the school by Nick Fuhrman, a ranger with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, were real.

"Do you know how to tell if a snake is poisonous?" Fuhrman asked the schoolchildren, who were dressed in explorer gear that included straw pith helmets. He mesmerized the children with his "Scales and Tails" presentation, showing animals native to rain forests and other natural areas.

The children watched attentively as a corn snake coiled itself around Fuhrman's arm. They also saw a snapping turtle, an owl, a mallard duck and a red-tailed hawk.

The 108 third-graders at Triadelphia Ridge were joined Wednesday by 70 third-graders from Jeffers Hill Elementary School in Columbia. They had been writing to each other as part of a pen pal program since October and planned to meet on Rain Forest Day.

All third-graders in the county study rain forests as part of the social studies curriculum, explained Lisa Larsson, third-grade team leader at Triadelphia Ridge. The school started Rain Forest Day last year to expand on some of the topics addressed in class.

"We thought the kids would enjoy seeing the pod transformed into a rain forest," she said. The teachers organized several rain forest-related learning activities that the pupils rotated through.

A big change this year was the addition of some special guests -- live animals, plus schoolchildren, teachers and parents from Jeffers Hill.

"It took a lot of intricate planning," Triadelphia Ridge teacher Claudia Pyres said of the event.

Teachers, parents and children from the two schools did their part to turn those plans into a memorable day for all. In addition to the "Scales and Tails" show, which was sponsored by the PTA, some children sampled products of the rain forest. They tasted coconut, ginger root, bananas, green peppers and avocados.

Eileen Engel, a third-grade team leader from Jeffers Hill, helped the children learn about the foods and how they are grown. Other schoolchildren made books that showed the growth layers of the rain forest. Some made animal masks and others played "Rain Forest Jeopardy."

In the "Jeopardy" room, Triadelphia Ridge schoolchildren KathrynGaasch, Kendall Church and Miranda Cantori sat with their pen pal Rebecca Gortonand answered the questions together. The girls had fun getting to know one another and working on the questions, which they described as "easy." Rebecca was especially impressed with the Triadelphia Ridge decorations, saying: "It looked like a jungle."

A group of 10 parents came into the school for four hours the day before and put up the elaborate decorations.

Dozens of live potted bamboo, rubber, ficus and palm trees were brought in. Yards and yards of green netting were suspended from the ceiling. Smaller flowering plants, moss and large vines were artfully arranged. Parents or children carefully placed the many toy creatures the next day.

Jeffers Hill schoolchildren brought handmade paper butterflies to sit in the branches. They also brought two large cakes with rain forest decorations that all the children shared.

One highlight came at the end of the day, when all the children went outside and sang "Rain Forest" and "Save the Planet," songs they had been rehearsing in their music classes over the last month.

After the singing, the Jeffers Hill visitors departed. Many of them had exchanged e-mail or home addresses with their pen pals so they can keep in touch over the summer.

"It was kind of sad when they left," Larsson said, adding that the pupils had been looking forward to the day for months.

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