Too cool for school


Lake Forest Elementary School students, from left, George Jennings, Tyrell Gordon, Benjamin Houston, Keomis Markham and Lavelle Howard, all 9-years-old, read Wednesday along with Audrey Williams, a zookeeper at Santa Fe Community College Teaching Zoo. Lake Forest students are part of a new program called Rotary Reading Safari at SFCC. The students participate in arts and crafts, read and interact with animals.

Photos by TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 11:44 p.m.

Coloring, snacks and reading aren't reserved for just the classroom.

Twenty third-graders from Lake Forest Elementary School got to participate in these activities at Santa Fe Community College Teaching Zoo on Wednesday.

The zoo and Gainesville Rotary Club paired up to create a program called Rotary Reading Safari.

Each Wednesday for the next six weeks, the same group of students will go to the zoo from 2 to 4 p.m. While there, they will observe and interact with animals, participate in arts and crafts and read in small groups.

Jack Brown, zoo director, came up with the program as a way to get children excited about reading.

"My idea was to bring (the children) to the zoo because everyone is excited at the zoo," he said. "If you can get that excitement to them then reading books is going to be very easy."

The Safari targeted at-risk third-graders from Lake Forest Elementary.

"We targeted third grade because in Florida schools that is the perfect grade for children," said Frank Burns, principal at Lake Forest Elementary. "The whole emphasis on this project is to encourage children to read and help them develop strategies for reading, enjoy reading and see the purpose of reading."

Each week the students will also do an art project. This week they gathered cutouts of eyes, beaks and wings and made paper bag parrot puppets.

The children seemed most excited about the weekly interactions with animals. Shakeria Walker and Amber Randall, both 9, were looking forward to seeing the monkeys.

This week the students saw the prehensile tail skink, a large lizard from the Solomon Islands.

"We are trying to keep things short and fun by moving them from one thing to another," Brown said.

Each activity is supervised by zoo students and Rotary volunteers.

One of the Rotary volunteers, Patrik Combs, helped students glue beaks and wings onto paper bags during the art project.

The Rotary Club created a $1,900 grant for the Rotary Reading Safari through The Rotary Foundation. Individual members from the Gainesville Rotary Club donated money for the student's snacks.

Brown said he hopes this is the first group of many to come through the zoo as part of the program.

"This is step one of my dream," he said. "If I get my way… we'll have after school programs all of the time and not just for at-risk kids."

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