Nebraska State Fair Features Servals, Tigers, and More

State Fair a Classroom For Students

By Harold Reutter
WORLD-HERALD NEWS SERVICE

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — For one day last week, the Nebraska State Fair became the state’s largest classroom for kindergarten through sixth-grade students.

Thousands of students — most wearing distinctive T-shirts identifying their schools — mixed with the typical weekday crowd Thursday. Many were from Grand Island, but youngsters wearing T-shirts identifying them as Hampton Hawks or Doniphan-Trumbull Cardinals or from the Ansley, Rising City or Centennial Public Schools also were easy to spot.

Grand Island teacher Jason Zelasney led his second-graders from Jefferson Elementary School on a morning tour that included the petting zoo, the Clydesdale horses, the cattle barn and the birthing pavilion.

At midmorning, Zelasney’s second-graders joined other students to watch the African acrobats stage show. During the show, fat raindrops began falling, forcing audience members to make a difficult decision: stay to watch the end of the show and get a little wet, or find a drier entertainment venue. Many toughed it out, but Zelasney took his students to drier climes, herding them beneath a large tent that sheltered Family Fun Farm activities.

One of the first things the second-graders did there was participate in the famous “chicken dance.”

After the dance, Zelasney had his students line up to have pictures taken in a “rural scene” depicting a shepherd and two sheep, with holes cut where the shepherd and sheep’s faces should be. By threes, the kids stuck their faces through the cutouts as Zelasney snapped photos.

The class’s last stop was the Animal Adventure Show, featuring wild animals from rain forests or African savannahs. The lineup included a Capuchin monkey; a green-wing macaw, the world’s second-largest macaw; an African serval, a small but powerful cat that can leap 8 feet to catch birds; and a coatimundi, a seeming combination of anteater and raccoon that climbs head first up or down a tree.

The highlight of the show, however, were two large Bengal tigers. One was 9 years old and weighed 350 pounds. The second had the traditional dark stripes, but against a white background, a coloring caused by a recessive gene.

In the afternoon, a class of Wasmer Elementary School second-graders from Grand Island visited the fairgrounds led by teacher Scott Wentling, taking in many of the same sights other students had seen in the morning.

In the birthing pavilion, the students got a vocabulary lesson, learning that cows “calve” when they give birth, ewes “lamb” and sows “farrow.” Because one large sow had already farrowed, the kids petted one of the piglets.

Because Wentling’s students were on the fairgrounds in the afternoon, they took in the Dancing Waters show, with fountains spraying water in time to a medley of tunes from “My Fair Lady.”

The students also watched the diving show on the “pirate ship,” made more exciting by gusty winds.

Meanwhile, at Jefferson, Zelasney’s second-graders were back at their desks Thursday afternoon. About three-quarters of the class members said they had been to the fair already, while the rest said Thursday was their first visit.

Second-graders Mya Andazola and Roberto Navas were two of those who had already been to the fair. But they agreed it was fun to go a second time. Mya said she liked the Bengal tigers best, while Roberto said he most enjoyed the acrobats.

Classmate Isaac LaBelle said he also liked the tigers the best of anything he had seen Thursday, his first visit to the fair. He said he wanted to be the tour guide if his mom took him to the fair later.

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