Cheetah-Dog Duo Visits Seminole Heights 3rd-Graders
Third-grade teacher Sarah Wright and her Seminole Heights Elementary class earned a visit from Busch Gardens' canine-feline duo, Kasi and Mtani.
Snapping instead of clapping so as to not excite their potentially dangerous visitors, an ecstatic crowd of third-graders welcomed a crew of Busch Gardens handlers and their animal friends, Kasi and Mtani, to Seminole Heights Elementary on Monday.
Kasi, a cheetah abandoned by her mother and adopted by Busch Gardens last year, has been raised alongside a golden lab puppy, Mtani, that the facility attained last year. Students at more than 40 Florida elementary schools followed the growth of the two animals over the last year as a way of learning one of the hardest things for teachers to teach.
"One of the things teachers have told us is really difficult to teach is change over time," Busch Gardens education specialist Amber Wisler said. "So we made a website where the kids watch how much the animals weighed, how much they ate and how much they had grown in their first year together. They could use that information however they wanted, be it math or science, but they could see the change in the animals over time."
Wisler, the creator of the blog site the children used to follow the animals, is a former third-grade teacher herself. Along with education director Shellie Kalmore, Wisler greeted the kids at Seminole Heights Elementary on Monday morning and congratulated them on being chosen. For Kalmore, the program is about helping the kids view animals in a different way as much as it is educating them.
"This experience has connected the kids to nature in a different way," Kalmore said. "They take ownership over the animals and become ambassadors for wildlife for the rest of their lives. This has been a great way for us to reach out into schools."
The Kasi and Mtani project came with only one hitch: The students had to create a portfolio to present to Busch Gardens at the end showing how they used the information and what they learned. Two schools, Temple Terrace Elementary and Seminole Heights Elementary, were awarded with a visit from the animals.
The cheetah and dog partnership drew plenty of "oohs and ahhs" from the third-graders, whose teacher, Sarah Wright, was excited about the treat her students had earned. Wright learned about the long term data analysis project last year at an education expo and as a ex-Busch Gardens employee, jumped at the opportunity.
"I think this is great because it teaches the kids that working hard and putting in the time will actually get you an end product," Wright said. "They can go home and share the excitement they have, and we have been able to teach them so much with this, from charting their growth to teaching them about endangered species and the importance of a respect for nature. It's wonderful to have Busch Gardens so close and have this opportunity."
For the children, the opportunity to see in person the animals they have been following for a year was an experience they won't forget.
"It was awesome to see them in person," third-grader Darion Julius said. "It was a really cool project, because when we started they were really little and we got to watch them grow up, and now we got to meet them."