Thursday, January 16, 2003

When animals call, kids get fascinated

By Valerie Christopher
Enquirer contributor

[photo] Connie Morrison from Frisch's outreach program shows fourth-graders at the Academy of World Languages in Evanston an Australian blue tongue skink from the Cincinnati Zoo.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
Where are the wild things?

On a recent Friday morning, they were at the Academy of World Languages in Evanston, being gawked at and patted by 26 curious fourth-graders.

An Australian blue tongue lizard and a Tenrec hedgehog from the Southeast coast of Africa, the stars of the show, were introduced to the Cincinnati public school students.

"It complements what we're teaching in science and it's amazing how the students voluntarily give their undivided attention," said their teacher, Nancy Shiels.

Frisch's Outreach Program on Jan. 23 will mark its 25th anniversary of bringing animals from the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden to Tristate students.

For 25 years, the Frisch's Outreach Program has provided hands-on zoo animal awareness to schools within a 30-mile radius of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in Avondale.

If you would like to have the program visit your school during the 2003-04 school year (there is a waiting list for this year), call 475-6110 (preschool-grade 3); or 475-6174 (grades 4-12).

The program has reached 1.2 million students in more than 13,000 visits.

The program was inspired by a letter written in 1977 by Cathryn Hilker, founder of the program, to Jack Maier, then-president and chairman of Frisch's Restaurants. Mrs. Hilker, who is also founder of the zoo's Cat Ambassador program, asked Mr. Maier to help fund it.

Now, three volunteers put on 60 programs a week for more than 1,000 students.

"It's amazing to see how astonished these unassuming students can become by seeing animals up close and personal," Mrs. Hilker said.

"To feel the feathers of an owl and the scales of a snake in school is one thing, but when you see students' mouths drop after sticking their fingers into the pouch of a female possum where its 13 babies live, you know they're not going to look at another one as roadkill again."

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