I love chatting with Fairyland’s education specialist, Shana Barchas, and animal caregiver, Jamie Hammer, when they return from the Oakland classrooms they’ve visited. They’re always pumped — and so am I.

Jamie and 4 component program (1)

Jamie and the four-component program

Last week’s visit to the kindergarten class at Lincoln Elementary represented the two women’s final visit of the season, which has covered 16 classrooms in seven schools. Generously funded by The Clorox Company, our four-component program focuses on underserved schools. The first component, a classroom visit, is followed by a trip to Fairyland to reinforce the concepts kids have been taught. A return visit to the classroom focuses on a book we’ve written. The fourth and final component is subsidized tickets given to the kids and their families so they can return to the park on their own.

Education specialist Shana Barchas makes sure our program is in alignment with the state’s science standard, but she brings Jamie along because kids love to learn about animals. And Jamie brings our guinea pig Patches, because Patches is a crowd-pleaser.

In the first lesson, the 26 kids discuss what “alive” means. Is a tree alive? A stone? They’re taught what to look for: Does it need food? Water? Air? Does it grow? Will it someday die? Our team leads the kids in a sorting game; they also learn how to gently pat Patches.

When the kids come for their park visit — on a bus we’ve chartered for them — their excitement is palpable. Jamie introduces them to our mini-donkeys, where they learn how to be safe around animals. They then form a “bunny circle,” where they team up to create a fence with their knees touching while the bunny hops in the middle. Typically, many of these kids have never visited Fairyland; we invite them to stay all day.

Team Fairyland then returns to the classroom, where they share a book Shana wrote about animal careers, using real Bay Area people as examples. These animal workers represent our community’s diverse population, and their jobs range from professional dog walker to veterinarian.

Shana usually asks the kids to name some animal careers. Their responses have included cheetah racer, cowboy, pet store owner and zookeeper. My favorite? Bunny dance teacher.

When they return to the park with their families, the kids often seek out Shana and Jamie, and they remember the names of the animals they’ve met. They are thrilled to be able to teach their family members what they’ve learned.   

By the end of our four-component program, the kids have learned words like photosynthesis, herbivore, biologist and raptor. “The gears are turning, and you can tell they’re realizing that life can still be exciting when they grow up,” says Shana.

And they are frankly smitten with Jamie. At Lincoln last week, where she stayed for the kids’ recess, one little boy grabbed her face, kissed her cheek and then ran away. A little girl asked if Jamie would be her sister. “I want to be just like Jamie” is something we hear a lot from the kids.

The book we wrote about animal careers is dedicated to the children of Oakland. Here’s how our book ends: “Whatever career you want to have, remember that working hard in school, trying new things and asking questions will help you get there.

“The end.”

For our kids, it’s really just the beginning.

Our four-component school outreach program needs additional funding to connect with more schools. You may donate through our website at www.Fairyland.org.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. For guidelines, see: http://oaklandlocal.com/guidelines.

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