Clairton students get up-close look at guests from zoo – Tribune

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jun 5, 2013 in Rat News | Subscribe

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By Eric Slagle

Published: Wednesday, June 5, 2013, 5:06 a.m.

Updated 3 hours ago

The eyes of third-graders at Clairton Education Center lit up on Tuesday when a visitor from the Pittsburgh Zoo OOG Aquarium told them they would have the opportunity to touch some of the animals she’d brought to their school.

Many of those same students squirmed backward a moment later when zoo education specialist Christine Noel produced a Honduran milk snake from a carrier in the school gym.

Noel explained that though the animal was close in appearance to the poisonous coral snake, which is also native to South America, that particular snake, named Leche — the Spanish word for milk — is not dangerous.

The explanation put some, but not all, of the students’ minds at ease.

“I didn’t touch the snake,â€� said Kayonna Harper, 8. “I thought it might bite me.â€�

Noel’s visit was the offshoot of an Earth Day visit the students made to the zoo in Pittsburgh’s Highland Park neighborhood.

School staff explained that, at the end of the field trip, they submitted a survey card, which was randomly selected and resulted in the school being awarded the free visit.

Third-grade teacher Cheri Bowser noted it was a good day for the visit: Tuesday was the last full day of school before summer break and the topics tied in well with lessons covered during the year.

“We did a unit on animal classification and they were really interested,â€� Bowser said. “It’s nice to have an animal expert come in. It was perfect timing.â€�

Noel said she presents animals to children between the ages of 2 and 13 on a regular basis through school visits and the zoo’s summer camp program. Third-graders, she said, are typically a receptive audience.

“It’s a good age. They know a lot and they all love animals,â€� Noel said.

Noel also brought a chinchilla, which is native to South America; a North American box turtle; and a tenrec, a small mammal native to Madagascar.

Tymere Johnson, 9, was reluctant to touch the chinchilla but did after a teacher encouraged him to do so.

Tymere said he was glad he did. “It was furry,� he said.

Student Dylan Hawthorne, 9, was impressed by the animal’s plush coat.

“I want a chinchilla,� said Dylan, who noted he has three pet rats.

Prior to the visit he only was familiar with chinchillas through Pokemon cards.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or

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