Trip to zoo is a fine end to school year

06/13/2011 12:00 AM

06/13/2011 12:06 AM

When you've told fourth-grade girls for a whole school year that you will, for sure, take them to the zoo when school is out, you'd better believe that they don't forget a promise.

A Communities in School program, Girl Power, gave me five girls whom I had lunch with every Monday all school year. The lunch bunch proved to be fun and appreciative zoo attendees. Tuesday was the day, and even though it was hot — really hot — we had a wonderful time.

The animals were friendly, and the staff was great.

My pal Steve Onken, who works for the zoo, made sure we were treated well, so he put Bridget Landers and Karen Bates on the case.

Away we went, getting up close and feeding animals, and getting close to — but not feeding — the gorillas.

Madison, who weighs a whopping 65 pounds, nearly leapt into my arms when Zuzu the gorilla, weighing 460 pounds, hit the glass separating the gorilla area from the spectators.

Actually, everyone jumped.

Seems Zuzu didn't think enough attention was being directed toward him.

After many stops, we went to the Beastro for lunch.

I had to convince a couple of girls that cotton candy really wasn't the best choice for a first course.

Kiera went for nachos and a pretzel. Mmm, the carbohydrate diet. She later wished she'd opted for pizza.

The capper on lunch, however, was Courtney, who had a Bomb Pop, and then showed off her dark tongue.

"It's like the giraffe's!" she said, laughing. And it was. Giraffes have long, really long, tongues, and they're dark so they don't get sunburned. That's just one of the many things we learned.

TyJenea was proud of her bravery. After she fed a rhino a chunk of sweet potato, she said, "I did it! And I wasn't going to feed anything."

It's interesting to see kids, or anyone for that matter, in a different environment than you're used to seeing them.

Isis and Courtney were not as talkative as I expected them to be, but Madison wasn't as shy as I expected.

Isis, who has a need for speed, did make it clear that she would love to ride on a cheetah.

"They're really fast. But I want to go see the penguins," she said.

"Cessna helped you get the penguins," Madison said to Karen. "The first time I saw those penguins was the best day of my life," she said, then added, "I want to be an artist, a zoo keeper or a vet."

The cold, fine spray coming from the misters was a bit of heaven, and no one seemed to care if their hair and clothes became damp.

A zoo visit. The promise was kept, and we had a good time.

My time with those particular girls is over. I'll have a new group next year. And rest assured, on the first day, during the first lunch one of them will say, "Last year they got to go to the zoo. Will we get to go to the zoo?"

You bet.

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