Local Students Give a Hand To Elephants

By Christina Elston

Los Angeles schools Sierra Canyon elephant cards

Sierra Canyon Lower School Art Director Paula Corley helped kindergartners and third graders turn their handprints into adorable elephant art. PHOTO COURTESY SIERRA CANYON SCHOOL

Your average kindergartner or third grader dwarfs in size compared with an elephant. But at Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, these little guys are helping elephants in a big way. The students, selling notecards featuring their art, have raised more than $2,000 to donate to an elephant sanctuary in Tenn.

All students at the school participate in an annual service project, and kindergarten teacher Jan Schlossberg says this project started with two goals. “One was to teach the kids that when you see something that is unjust and cruel, that you don’t walk away from that,” she says. The other was to raise funds for The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee (www.elephants.com), which offers a refuge where former circus and zoo elephants can roam free.

Explaining the plight of performing elephants to these young students was a delicate task. “We had to be very careful,” says Schlossberg. Teachers focused on how free elephants are able to roam over many acres of land, and how in zoos and circuses they are kept in confined spaces and sometimes even chained. This resonated with the students. “They knew that wasn’t a good thing,” Schlossberg says.

Next, the students learned about the 2,700-acre sanctuary where the elephants are free to roam. “We showed them a lot of footage of these elephants having their first taste of freedom,” Schlossberg says. “They could see the joy that these elephants experienced. These little guys got it.”

When the classes brainstormed fundraising ideas for the sanctuary, they were fortunate to have Lower School Art Director Paula Corley in the room. She suggested that the kids make handprints in gray paint, then turn those handprints upside down. “They added a few lines here and there and they became elephants,” Schlossberg says. The school then printed the artwork on notecards, and the students used their new knowledge about elephants to help sell the cards, talking to their families and friends about what they were trying to accomplish.

As orders poured in, it became clear that the classes needed help to box and ship the cards, so the kids brought their cause to the seventh-grade classes at Sierra Canyon. Their enthusiastic presentation won over the older students, who agreed to help in return for community service hours.

Demand for the notecards exceeded everyone’s expectations, and the project is helping underwrite purchase of a new ATV that caregivers at the sanctuary will use to bring food and medication to the roaming elephants. “It morphed into something bigger than any of us imagined,” Schlossberg says. “We didn’t even dream of raising $2,000 until things started cooking.”

In early June, after the students made their donation, they were treated to a live tour of the sanctuary via webcam, so they could “meet” and learn more about some of their favorite elephants.

Cards are still available for purchase, and cost $10 for a package of five. Email Schlossberg at JSchlossberg@sierracanyonschool.org. Meanwhile, there are already plans to renew the project in the fall. “This is just the beginning,” Schlossberg says.

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