Research/Care Blog

Burbank Students Respond to Koko

Monica (left) is a 1st-grade student in Mr. LeBlanc’s class, and Anna (right) is a 4th-grade student in Mrs. Arenason’s class. Anna is doing her “Endangered Species” project on mountain gorillas, as a result of her Aunt (Lisa’s) connection with Koko.

Date Added: 2014-09-18

Blog by Lisa Holliday, Executive Assistant to Dr. Penny Patterson (and Koko)

On Friday September 12th, 2014 I was in Burbank, California, to introduce Koko — and Ndume — as ambassadors for their species, to a couple of elementary schools there, via a multimedia presentation and my personal experiences with these wonderful gorillas.

This was my first presentation about Koko since I began working at the Gorilla Foundation earlier this year, so I was nervous to say the least. However, I was assured by many friends that my fear of public speaking would be displaced by my passion for Koko and gorillas and that I would do fine with my presentation.

My first stop was the Mountain Avenue Elementary School, at which I was to present to Mr. LeBlanc’s first grade class. The students came in single file after their new playground was dedicated and they finished their flag ceremony. They were very excited to see the Koko goodies (books, posters and newsletters) on each of their desks. It turns out that most of the children in this classroom already knew about Koko and had read Koko’s Kitten; and so loved both gorillas and kittens — my work was easy and my presentation went very well.

Project Koko “goodies” (Koko’s Kitten book and poster, and Koko mask),
distributed to students at both Burbank schools.

Next I graduated to 4th grade, where I presented to two classes, taught by Mrs. Arenason and Ms. Bottomly. This group of fourth graders happened to be studying and doing reports on endangered species. Anna, one of Mrs. Arenason’s students, was doing her report on Mountain Gorillas. Mrs. Arenason had not told the children who was presenting or what the presentation was about so when it was revealed that I was from the Gorilla Foundation and worked for Koko, the excitement was palpable! They were truly fascinated by Koko and her capabilities! We focused on the similarities between gorillas and humans and why conservation of endangered species is so important. The students at Mountain Avenue Elementary School are now dedicated to spreading the word about how amazing gorillas are and our responsibility to protect them.

After presenting to 104 students at Mountain Avenue Elementary, I made my way to Emerson Elementary School, where I met with Mrs. Pacino’s and Mrs. Iffrig’s 3rd grade class, and Mrs. Knight’s 2nd grade class. These students knew I was coming and could barely contain themselves. I had arrived a little early and Mrs. Pacino put me to work until the kids came back from lunch, so they would have to wait a little longer. The room was packed with students and classroom aids and teachers all excited to hear and learn more about Koko. The kids asked great questions and really were engaging. The video of Koko eating, received the biggest reaction — probably because she reminds us so much of ourselves, and there’s something profound about the way gorillas seem to savor every bite when they eat.


Video of Koko eating some of her favorite birthday foods.

I then moved across the hallway to Mrs. Engel’s 3rd grade class, where Mrs. Waters class joined us too. When showing this group of third graders Koko’s art work, they immediately picked up on the fact that Koko’s favorite color is red. And they were particularly impressed by gorilla Michaels hand print (in his self-portrait “Me, Myself, Good”) and couldn’t believe that his hand looked identical to ours (except for its size).

Koko painting something with lots of red; and Michael’s self-portrait: "Me, Myself, Good"

With all 232 students at the two Burbank schools, I was able to share some of my experiences about personally working with Koko. For example, I shared how I prepare a lot of special meals for Koko and Ndume and how Koko likes to look at cookbooks and make choices for her next meals. I also shared what some of Koko’s favorites foods are —like dill, watercress, soup and roses. Interestingly, the first graders’ favorite video of Koko was the one showing her blowing her nose — which made them laugh hysterically.


Penny asks Koko to blow her nose (with a tissue), demonstrating that Koko (and all gorillas, we suspect) have breath control very much like ours.

But mostly I shared what special beings Koko and Ndume are, and how all gorillas are both unique and like us at the same time. After conveying Koko, Michael and Ndume’s stories with so many students from these two elementary schools, I came away hopeful for the future of gorillas and gorilla conservation.

I plan to do many more Koko school presentations, as it has such a positive impact on both the kids and on me — and in turn on the gorillas I work with everyday, thus forming a virtuous cycle.

Blog by Lisa Holliday, Executive Assistant to Dr. Penny Patterson (and Koko)


 


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