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Photos by JJ Kaplan

L to R is Beth Brent, Chris Squier, a plush representation of the Zoo's orangutan "Azy" and Jon Glesing.

L to R is Beth Brent, Chris Squier, a plush representation of the Zoo’s orangutan “Azy” and Jon Glesing.

The Eagle Elementary third graders recently gathered for a special presentation by the Indianapolis Zoo’s 2012 Indianapolis Prize Winner, Dr. Steven Amstup, Chief Scientist with Polar Bears International. Dr. Amstup spoke to the budding conservationists about how the climate affects the bears’ habitat and longterm viability as a species. This lecture by a world renowned authority is just one of many programs integrating animals and academics that Eagle Elementary is offering their student body.

In the spring last year, Chris Squier, principal of Eagle Elementary, and Beth Brent, the school’s literacy coach, collaborated on a brilliant idea that would lead to a unique partnership with the Indianapolis Zoo.

While scouting for a book for the school’s “One Book, One School” program where a chapter book is selected and then read by the entire elementary school, Principal Squier happened upon The One and Only Ivan at the Indianapolis Zoo’s gift shop. In a conversation with a zoo employee, she learned that the school was planning to unveil a new exhibit in 2014, the International Orangutan Center.

Principal Squier purchased a copy of The One and Only Ivan with the idea that the students would read about the values that the book promotes like friendship, art and hope while educating the students about the Great Apes. She shared the book and the concept with Beth. With the assistance of faculty members Kelly Masters and Jayne Shubat, together they created a curriculum for the entire school with a focus on the Great Apes.

“We had a big convocation with the students, and there were several parents also in attendance,” Squier explained. “We rolled out the book and introduced the idea that all of the grade levels would be doing activities all year long. We would be really concentrating on apes throughout the year, gorillas specifically, while we are reading the book and then move to the orangutans by the end of the year.”

To encourage the students’ enthusiasm and to help promote the overall project, Beth designed

Zionsville-Eagle Elementary readers

T-shirts that every student will wear to different activities and events supporting the Great Apes theme. One incredible opportunity will include a field trip for the entire fourth grade to patronize the Cincinnati Zoo, courtesy of a grant awarded to Eagle Elementary from the Zionsville Education Foundation. The entire grade will visit the neighboring zoo’s exhibit housing orangutans, gorillas and bonobos in the spring 2014.

As the faculty at Eagle Elementary grew more excited about their in-house project, they reached out to the Indianapolis Zoo to learn more about their newest permanent exhibit and learning center. Principal Squier connected with Kerry Tuttle, Public Campaign Coordinator for the Indianapolis Zoo. They soon began collaborating on curriculum ideas and activities to share with area schools for the Zoo’s programming and fundraising initiatives.

Schools participating in the Zoo’s school program geared towards grades K-8 are eligible to earn a trip to the International Orangutan Center prior to the opening to the general public. The Center will provide lessons and interactive activities to students and visitors with the purpose of educating the public on the species and conservation awareness.

The Director of Public Relations for the Indianapolis Zoo, Jon Glesing, explained the special opportunities that will be available to participating schools and the overall importance of having an exhibit like the one that is being completed at the Zoo for the longterm viability of these magnificent animals.

“The Indianapolis Zoo is on the brink of opening a world class exhibit, the International Orangutan Center on May 24, 2014,” Glesing explained. “It is an exhibit unlike anything else in the world, and it is in large part geared at drawing attention to the endangered species status of orangutans in the wild. They are on track to go extinct in this generation of students’ lifetimes. Orangutans will be gone from the face of the earth.”

Orangutans are the closest relative to humans on this planet sharing 97 percent of their DNA. They

Dr. Steven Amstup speaking at Eagle Elementary

have the ability to learn, remember and use tools and are very intelligent animals. One of the Zoo’s primary functions is to educate the public. The International Orangutan Center school program is geared to build awareness of the importance of keeping animals, specifically orangutans, on this planet. “It’s going to be a challenge to these kids today to help carry that torch when we are gone,” Glesing concludes.

With an approximate price tag of $30 million for this exhibit, the Zoo has raised $27 million to date. The Zoo is now in the “public phase” where they are introducing opportunities for individuals, families and area schools to donate funds.

In connection with the schools, the Zoo has organized a fundraiser in which each school or class that raises a minimum of $500 will have special opportunities to get to the exhibit. The five schools that raise the most funds will get the opportunity to come to Zoo and “test drive” the exhibit before it opens to the general public.

Eagle Elementary has met their $500 goal and will continue to raise funds over the course of the school year with a program creatively dubbed “Pennies for Primates.” All proceeds raised will go to the Zoo for the conservation efforts for orangutans.

Nine orangutans will debut at the Indianapolis Zoo May 24 in this “100 year exhibit.” It is the Zoo’s goal to inspire their visitors with the stories of these fascinating primates and stories of survival despite their endangered status. The Zoo faculty, educators and all of the students will continue working diligently to make Indiana a wonderful long-lasting home for these Great Apes while instilling the necessary compassion and education to future generations.

For more information on the Indianapolis Zoo’s very own Azy and his fellow orangutans, visit azyandfriends.com

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