Gillispie School kindergarteners adopt Aussie koalas

Daima Austin, right, and Suzanne Pirtle and their Gillispie kindergarten students. Photo: Kim Pavel
Daima Austin, right, and Suzanne Pirtle and their Gillispie kindergarten students. Photo: Kim Pavel

By Kim Pavel

Special to the Light

The classrooms of Gillispie School kindergarteners, whose grade-level social studies focus is on the continent of Australia, have been filled with the rich sounds of didgeridoos, the smells of bangers and mash, and, through the wonders of Skype, virtual sharing with new Australian schoolmate friends. Their experience did not stop there — the students developed a love of the outback wildlife, especially koalas.

The young activists set out to help save one of the Australian koalas in the New South Wales Koala Hospital, but with hard work and commitment, they were able to adopt two koalas for a year.

The Gillispie School community values service learning. Head of School Alison Fleming’s goal is that, “By the time a child graduates from Gillispie, he/she will have reached out to help a variety of populations — locally, nationally, and globally — and will have been exposed to projects ranging from serving lunch to the homeless to caring for animals and the environment.”

The kindergarteners’ mission to adopt a koala was conceived by kindergarten teachers Daima Austin and Suzanne Pirtle who actively engaged students to solve this challenge, which brought joy and understanding along the way.

“Not only did the children learn about Australia and how to help an animal in need, but other important life lessons were learned because of this project,” Pirtle said.

First, the students learned about the animals of Australia; then they studied the unique hardships that can affect koalas and lead to them being rescued, treated, and hopefully reintroduced into their natural habitat. The children developed an affinity for the koalas and, as they got to know each adoptable joey and his/her quirky personality, they voted on which ones to adopt.

The first place heart tugger was Links VTR, a tubby orphan koala who was discovered in his mother’s pouch after she was hit by a car. Second place was Westhaven Barry, who suffered from a pronounced case of scoliosis and was equipped with a comical yet grumpy temperament.

Next, the enterprising students figured out a way to fund their cause. If they pooled their efforts by earning money performing home chores over a period of a month, they could accomplish their goal. Daily, students wrote in their journals about chores they had done at home and how much money they had earned. They borrowed one another’s ideas on how they could be of value around the house. The earnings basket was tallied and they watched their symbolic adopted koala climb the “Eucalyptus Tree-mometer.”

The motivated students doubled their goal, which afforded two koala adoptions. At the end of the drive, journals were filled with a creative collection of "hard work" that went into the adoptions. The students earned money for the two koalas by sorting laundry, clearing the table, helping with siblings, vacuuming, feeding family pets and cleaning their bedrooms.



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