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North Gwinnett Middle holds in-school field trip to Australia

Staff Photo: Keith Farner  Bennett holds a jungle carpet python to show sixth graders in the gym of North Gwinnett Middle School on Wednesday.

Staff Photo: Keith Farner Bennett holds a jungle carpet python to show sixth graders in the gym of North Gwinnett Middle School on Wednesday.

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Staff Photo: Keith Farner Tom Bennett, of Wildlife Wonders and the North Georgia Zoo, holds a 20-pound rabbit for students and teachers at North Gwinnett Middle School on Wednesday that he called an invasive species to Australia because they eat the same vegetation as native animals like kangaroos.

SUWANEE -- Students at North Gwinnett Middle School filled the gym bleachers on Wednesday, but instead of watching a basketball game, the Bulldogs were treated to a presentation of Australian animals.

The gym floor, which is usually lined with equipment for physical education classes, housed crates and carriers for Outback wildlife.

Jodi Harrison, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at North Gwinnett, organized the event and said the in-school field trip was an extension of the academic knowledge skills curriculum the sixth-graders learned this quarter. In recent weeks, the students have learned about the animals, plants, climate and geography of Australia. After doing their own research, the only thing left to do would be to see the animals in person. A class trip to Australia would be adventurous but costly and unfeasible, Harrison said, so a fun alternative was to bring the animals to the school.

"These are animals we don't get to see, ever," Harrison said. "So they've really enjoyed it."

Although the teachers knew the basic plan for the presentation, they gave creative freedom to Tom Bennett, co-founder of Wildlife Wonders of Cleveland, and host of the presentation. Bennett said his organization performs about 600 outreach events each year for churches, communities and schools.

The students met a young kangaroo named Boomerang.

"Even though he is small, he has huge, big feet," said Bennett as he introduced Boomerang to the crowd.

Bennett told the audience that the kangaroo, which was small enough to fit into a pillow case, could jump 20 to 25 feet in a single bound and will grow to be 6 feet tall.

The presentation also included a kookaburra, a crocodile, a monitor lizard, and a Flemish giant rabbit.

However, the crowd seemed most excited when Bennett brought out a python snake. The students erupted and chattered their teeth in fear upon seeing the snake.

"We only had one teacher spring to the door, so that's good," Bennett said after one teacher excused herself from the gym.

The room settled once they learned that the snake was non-venomous. Yet, the students inquired about how to tell the difference between venomous and non-venomous snakes. Bennett did not advocate learning any particular rhymes to help remember which snakes were safe, but said, "If you're close enough to see their eyes, you're way too close."

Glenn Clark, also a sixth-grade social studies teacher at North Gwinnett, said he thought the event was a success, especially since it was the first time for the school. He expects the sixth-grade teachers would do it again next year and said, "To see (the animals) up close in person is a whole other dimension."