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It’s All Happening at the Zoo

Science, Spanish, Poetry and More


Corrin Kile made a beeline around the corner to where her classmates sat on folding chairs in front of a window of water.

“Dos nutrias!” she called. Jack Kenworthy and Kaeden Berg dropped what they were doing to follow Corrin, while Donnie Harmon stayed behind to keep an eye out on his end for nutrias, the Spanish name for otters.

Ada Vista fourth-grader Corrin Kile hopes to spot an otter

“Otters are like the second best animal,” Donnie explained. “The first is the chimpanzees.”

The quartet of Ada Vista students was charged with observing the North American web-footed members of the weasel family as part of the Spanish-immersion school’s sixthannual lab week at John Ball Zoo.

Nearly 100 fourth-graders spent a week there studying various animals, getting a behind-the-scenes look at how they are cared for at the on-site hospital; how and what and when they are fed; and reinforcing what they are learning in school related to animal adaptation science standards, writing and Spanish-speaking skills. PTO funds pay for half of the costs.

Teacher Lisa Zuñiga said the zoo study hits on a number of science and language arts standards, such as:
Develop a model to describe that light reflecting from objects and entering the eye allows objects to be seen.

  • Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior and reproduction.
  • Use a model to describe that animals receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brains and respond in different ways.
  • Connect personal knowledge, experiences and understanding of the world to themes and perspectives in text through oral and written responses.
  • Write poetry, and a cohesive narrative piece that creates relationships among setting, characters, theme and plot.

Nora Amrhein spent the week observing the cotton-top tamarin, an endangered primate found only in Colombian rainforests.

Her favorite part of the week? “Writing about them,” Nora said. “I really like writing, and I really like animals. They have been my favorite things since I was little.”

Ada Vista fourth-graders, from left, Corrin Kile, Jack Kenworthy, Donnie Harmon and Kaeden Berg set up chairs in front of the otter exhibit

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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