Wild visitors come to Southwestern

Published 9:59 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Zoo touch: Southwestern kindergartener Jarvis Howell IV uses a “zoo touch” with two fingers as not to scare Clementine the chicken, with volunteer Diane Paluzzi, when Virginia Zoo ambassadors visited Southwestern Elementary School Wednesday.

Southwestern Elementary School kindergarteners went wild when both human and animal ambassadors from the Virginia Zoo visited them Wednesday.

The students asked questions such as “Is it alive?” while getting up and close and personal with furry, feathery and scaly friends.

To tie into what the students have learned about living things, Virginia Zoo docents Diane Paluzzi, Margie Gomez and Sharon Magyar discussed with the three kindergarten classes what makes something alive, such as growth and reproduction.

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The zoo volunteers brought Clementine the chicken, Zoe the Honduran milk snake and Cadbury the rabbit as examples. The students got the opportunity to pet all of the animal visitors.

The volunteers discussed each animal’s characteristics such as how chickens lay eggs, how rabbits use their powerful paws to dig holes and how snakes shed their skin multiple times a year.

Magyar compared the way Zoe sheds to the students outgrowing their clothes and having to buy new ones.

She also said the Honduran milk snake got its name from Honduran farmers who thought the animals were after the milk in their barns when they were actually after the mice.

While some students hesitated at the sight of Zoe’s red-and-black scales, most of the kindergartners were eager to touch a snake for the first time.

Paluzzi said while the furry animals are usually big hits, the scaly ones gain a lot of interest, too.

“You get some kids who are fascinated by the snake,” she said.

Even kindergarten teacher Linda Howell said she was surprised how soft Zoe felt to the touch.

“It felt really soft, but I was scared to touch it,” Takara Howell, 6, said.

Student Nelson Fields said he thought Zoe felt like rubber.

The presentation at Southwestern was part of the Virginia Zoo School Discovery Program. Volunteers visit schools all over Hampton Roads to educate students on animals and conservation.

“For the really little kids, you’re trying to develop empathy for animals,” Paluzzi said. “Once you care, you want to make a difference.”

Gomez said she likes teaching the children new things at the presentations.

“That point when you see someone’s eyes light up and say, ‘I didn’t know that,’ is great,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to find out you made that difference.”

For more information on the Virginia Zoo School Discovery Program, visit www.virginiazoo.org/education.