A 400-person crowd of students and parents packed into the Washington Elementary School gym Thursday as a parade of wild animals made an appearance at the school's Family Literacy and Zoo Night.
This year, Title I teacher and coordinator Brittnany Schad decided to combine the popular zoo event that brings in the Columbus Zoo's finest with the annual literacy activity aimed at getting parents involved in reading with children outside the classroom.
The night was not only wild, but was a crowd favorite as eyes widened over a young snow leopard, an enormous tortoise and a playful otter, just some of the creatures zoo staff brought in to show the audience.
JACKIE RUNION The Marietta Times
Mitchell Scherer of the Columbus Zoo carries in the young snow leopard that played a crowd favorite at Washington Elementary's Zoo Night Thursday.
BELOW: Washington Elementary students gaze up at the 30-plus pound tortoise named Lucky as Scherer carries her throughout the gym Thursday.
The night began with two rotating groups that enjoyed dinner and then participated in family reading activities coordinated by Marietta College education students. Everything was zoo themed, with kindergarten through fifth graders making animal hats and masks while listening to books about the zoo.
"We've done many literacy nights and math nights for families, but this is the first time we've done it combined with the zoo night," said principal Scott Kratche. "I'm attributing the big crowd to the excitement over seeing the animals."
Excitement may have been an understatement. After reading and crafts were over, the enormous queue of people funneled into the gym, where zookeepers presented several crowd-friendly animals.
"My favorite is the fox, because he was so cute," said Kenzie Smith, a third grader. "And I liked him because of how he air-conditions himself with his ears."
Smith was referring to a Fennec fox, classified by its small size and creamy-colored coat that uses his over-sized ears to keep cool in the desert.
Along with the fox came a penguin, a tortoise that weighed in at more than 30 pounds, a river otter, a three-banded armadillo that curled itself into a perfect ball, and a grand finale favorite-a young snow leopard-still small enough to be cute but big enough to draw gasps.
"I really like that tortoise, because his whole shell is connected to his spine and it's like his home," said Lauren Modesit, a third grade student.
After the animal show, students were allowed to come and meet the tortoise named Lucky, who had been found roaming alongside city streets in Columbus before being rescued by the zoo.
The literacy night is a popular event for Marietta College's Foundations of Reading Instruction class, taught by Caroline Hancock.
"We do this with Washington every year," Hancock said. "But this year because of the turnout we're being assisted by people from our education club, too."
College students read stories to families and incorporated the stories into the crafts.
"Each lesson is zoo-themed and is designed to help with reading comprehension," Hancock said.
Schad said though a literacy activity is required by Title 1-which provides funding for students who are economically disadvantaged or at risk for failing to meet state standards-this idea was a bit different than others.
"It's all about parent involvement, but we wanted something that would be fun for everyone too," Schad said. "And the kids researched about the animals, so they put in a lot of work too."
Third grader Jacob Wright had made himself quite the impressive animal hat.
"I want to see all of the animals, like we learn about in school," he said.
The event usually turns up about 150 people, and Kratche said they actually had to cut off the number at registration at 400 because of the capacity of the gym.
"We had an awesome response to the event," Schad said. "We expected it to be big because of the animals, but it was still a huge surprise how many turned out."