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R.K. Mellon students go wild for animal visit

| Thursday, April 11, 2013, 10:29 a.m.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Students at R.K. Mellon Elementary School in Ligonier look at a Prehensile -Tailed Skink during an assembly presented by the Pittsburgh Zoo. The children learned about different animals — especially their diets — as part of the district’s ongoing nutrition education.

It was a wild day at R.K. Mellon Elementary School last week.

Children clad in leopard print, zebra stripes and rabbit ears paraded down the hallways of the Ligonier Valley School District school to a lunch of Zoo Crew chicken nuggets, Go-Ape bananas, broccoli trees and animal crackers.

Then, they were led into the gymnasium, where things really got wild. Three rainforest creatures — a kinkajou, a Solomon Islands prehensile-tailed skink and a boa constrictor — were brought out to meet the kids.

The Pittsburgh Zoo and the district's food service provider, The Nutrition Group, brought the mobile zoo to R.K. Mellon to teach the students about healthy eating.

The same program will be brought to Laurel Valley Elementary School in May.

Michelle Marker, director of programs at The Nutrition Group, said she enlisted the animals' help under her philosophy of doing “whatever it takes to get me into the schools and talk about healthy choices to the kids.” The interactive program talks extensively about what animals of the rainforest need to eat to stay healthy and why that's important.

“Every time you eat or drink something it's an opportunity to do something good for your body,” Marker told the children.

Robin McRoberts and Rob Cramer, education specialists with the zoo, conducted the presentation.

“This is my favorite part of my job,” said Cramer, who brought each animal out and walked it around the gym, answering questions along the way.

Students gasped when the boa began slithering up Cramer's chest toward his neck and marveled when the kinkajou, known as a “honey bear,” hid his tiny face underneath Cramer's arm. He also introduced them to the skink, the reptile with a grasping tail.

“I thought the program was very informative. Our students definitely don't have the opportunity to get to the rainforest. Even when they get to the zoo, they don't get this close to the animals,” Vice Principal Wayne Waugh said.

Jewels Phraner is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or