Students go gorillas

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, March 29, 2017
West Liberty Middle School is going gorillas! Thanks to the One School, One Book Program, students are sponsoring a troop of the ground-dwelling African herbivores.

With help from a $3,000 grant from Ryan Trust, over 500 copies of the book “The One and Only Ivan” were distributed to first through fifth graders.

“We decided after reading this book, with Ivan being stuck in a cage for so long, we wanted to find a way to help gorillas,” said Lisa Beal, teacher and librarian at WLMS.

The students helped raise over $680, which will be used to sponsor one male, two females (mommas) and six baby gorillas through the Dian Fossey Gorilla International Fund.

In return, the middle school will get pictures, names and updates over the period of a year for all of the gorillas, which will be shared with the eager students.

“There’s two habitats in western Africa where the money will go towards to help these gorillas, so the money we raised will take care of them for one year,” added Beal.

The entirety of the middle school gathered in the gym Friday, March 24, to hear the news. Principal Dr. Nancy Gardner signed the giant check with a giant pen to send it off.

The hundreds of students went ape-wild up in the stands when they saw just how many gorillas they’ll be helping, especially the mommas and the babies.

Sponsoring a group of gorillas is the conclusion to the One School, One Book reading program which was embraced by the middle school and public library.

The point was to get parents reading and engaging with their children, which in turn will hopefully make and impact on the child’s reading development.

“Every child was given their own book, they could pick English or Spanish,” said WLMS Reading Specialist Donita Anderson. “We had a reading guide, so every family was reading the pages on the same day.”

This was the second time the middle school has embraced a community reading program, this time they chose New York Time’s best seller “The One and Only Ivan,” by Katherine Applegate.

The story is about an easy going gorilla named Ivan, who, in captivity, meets a baby elephant Ruby that challenges his comfortable world.

Weekly students and parents were assigned pages to read together. Back at school, students were asked trivia questions after each reading in order to get prizes.

“We had the whole school community reading the same book,” added Anderson. “So everybody knew what everybody was talking about.”

The West Liberty Public Library also got in on the reading action, setting aside special reading times to help students.

During the assembly the faculty handed out awards, including prizes for the best bookmarks created by children’s, little plush gorillas and posters for the book.

Also, Marciana Tharp, committee person on the project, set up a visit from Naturalist with the Muscatine County Conservation Board Michelle Berns.

She visited with live animals including amphibians, reptiles and raptors.

“She talked with the students about her work with local conservation projects and had discussions about animal conservation, animal behavior, and the issues of animals living in captivity, just like Ivan the main character in the story had to live in captivity,” said Anderson.

Next, fifth graders will begin reading the book at the Simpson Memorial Home in sections. That way they can share the fun they’ve had with the residents.

It’s been a cultivating community project through and through, where the real winners have been the students, parents and a rag-tag group of gorillas across the Atlantic Ocean.
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