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Zoomania hits Calexico

May 23, 2002|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH

Staff Writer

Dateline: Calexico

There was a veritable zoo in the boardroom at the Calexico Unified School District office Wednesday morning — and district Superintendent Robert Moreno couldn't have been happier.

Moreno was witness to a video conference between a group of second-graders from Calexico's Mains Elementary School and educators at the San Diego Zoo.

"This is exciting stuff; it's the first video conference we've done at the elementary level," Moreno said.

As zoo educator Robin McLaughlin came into focus on a large screen, the group of 25 students quickly became entranced by the array of animals McLaughlin held up for discussion.

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First there was Pepe, the Swainson's toucan from Central America followed by Victor, an echidna from Australia and then came another Aussie, a skink named, wait for it — Skink Floyd.

At one point Pepe made to exit stage left and had to be retrieved by the unflappable McLaughlin, who took Pepe's reluctance to hang around in stride.

Answering questions as intriguing as, "Do roadrunners fly?" to, "Why does that skink have a blue tongue?" McLaughlin presented an hour show-and-tell that had the kids avidly interacting with her.

For 7-year-old Genessis Kennedy this was her first "trip" back to San Diego Zoo since she was in kindergarten. Genessis, who asked the roadrunner question, shyly conceded to liking the toucan best because, "he looked soft."

Moreno said he anticipated most schools in the district having the capability to video conference within the next 18 months.

"It costs over $1,000 to take a busload of kids to San Diego; this (video conference) cost us maybe $50 tops," Moreno said.

Zoo education assistant Debbie Andreen, speaking from her San Diego office, said the zoo's electronic outreach program had been in place since late 2001.

Saying that the zoo has video conferenced with some 150 schools, including schools in Australia and British Columbia, Andreen admitted there had been some initial "miscasting" as far as some of the stars of the show were concerned.

"Well, let me see … there were some parrots that squawked way too much and we had some rock hyrax that were far too squirmy. Those guys are used to bouncing off rocks so we couldn't get them to sit still on the desk," the zoo lady said.

On the Web: www.sandiegozoo.org/

Click on "Kid Territory" for a section of the Web site designed especially for kids. It has games, fun recipes and lots of zoo factoids that only a kid could love.

>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or dingo87@earthlink.net

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