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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on December 15, 1999 at 19:00:02:
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS (Manitoba) 07 December 99 This school's a real jungle as 100 animals join the kids (Linda Wertheimer)
Dallas, Texas (CP): School librarian Nancy Cheyne touches her lips to shush students -- a normal action, except that this time, her call for quiet has nothing to do with bothering other people.
Cheyne and the students huddle around a tank at Louise Kahn Elementary School. Inside sits the reason for silence: Sammy the blue-tongued skink. And the foot-long reptile is ready for his snack.
"Remember, you guys, you have to be as quiet as angels because if he hears you, he's going to do what?" she asks softly.
"Hide," the children answer, in half-whispers.
This is no ordinary school library. Besides Sammy the skink, there's Mop Top the cockatiel and Baby Kahn the sun conure, a kind of parrot. About a dozen fish swim amid living coral in a 135-gallon saltwater aquarium.
Visitors to the west Oak Cliff school run into an animal in nearly every classroom -- hedgehogs, snakes, rats, rabbits -- and even bearded dragons in a tank in the hallway. Bearded dragons, as all but the youngest students know, are lizards.
In all, about 100 animals live at Kahn, some donated, some purchased courtesy of a $10,000 grant the school won from Target Stores for a program it calls PAWS, or Plants and Animals Within the Schools. Dozens of plants adorn the school, too.
Students care for both the flora and fauna. A garden club looks after the plants, mostly after school. A critter crew cleans bird cages and aquariums and feeds the animals.
The animals don't always heed their keepers. Baby Kahn flies freely on occasion. A few times, he browsed the biography section -- with his beak.
"He's working his way through the C's," Cheyne says, holding up a book with a nibbled binder. "He gets banished when he does that."
During the first week of school, a rat escaped, gnawed through a computer cable and hid in a computer box. Another time, Grandfather Sonic, one of about 25 hedgehogs, hid under the soda machine for six days.
"We've had our accidents, but the benefits outweigh any of the problems we've had," says Julia Gibsoncq , the technology teacher whose students are photographing the animals for the school website.
"Kids learn about the quality of life," Gibson said. "They learn about taking care of animals, helpless creatures."
Cheyne is not just the librarian. She also teaches the children about animals and plants -- because the library houses so many and because she's the only person in the school who can feed Sammy the skink. She's teaching students the proper approach so they eventually can take on the task.
Sammy is skittish, a common skink trait. He spent his first three weeks at Kahn hiding beneath the log in his tank all day until the dismissal bell rang.
It takes patience to feed him. Cheyne holds a piece of apple by Sammy's mouth and waits. A student moves. The skink slinks back. The librarian puts the apple closer to the reptile's mouth. Sammy grabs it with his blue tongue.
"Oh, he ate it," says Maxs Camarillo, an eight-year-old third-grader, his face pressed against the glass.
Earning the chance to care for animals and plants motivates even the most lacklustre students, said teacher Ann Meisenbach, who worked on the grant proposal.
"If children can learn to nurture an animal, they can nurture themselves, too," she said.