Gorillas invaded classrooms in the K-1 elementary school this month.

Gorillas invaded classrooms in the K-1 elementary school this month.

Most were made of paper by students, and others were in books and pictures.

The gorillas were there for the monthlong Partners in Conservation program at the New Albany-Plain Local K-1 school.

PIC is part of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium's conservation division. The program is designed to educate and provide funding for preserving the future for the gorillas and people of Rwanda.

Although the zoo started the program in 1991, New Albany first-grade teacher Shelley Cervantes said the school has been involved for at least five years.

"I know we have actively been involved for a couple of years now. This year will be our third annual family culture fest," she said. "But even a couple of years before that we had a teacher who is no longer here contact the zoo. She started it with her own class."

PIC has spread to a monthlong schoolwide lesson and a favorite among students, Cervantes said.

"We're really trying to teach children about conservation and different cultures in the world and how to help people help themselves," she said. "We're really just focusing on saving the rainforest and everything that entails: the people, gorillas "

The lesson integrates the PIC program into each subject, and students read gorilla books, measure gorilla parts, map Africa and learn about products made there.

"We do a great study on the gorilla," she said. "We get information from the zoo that has the exact measurements of a gorilla. We measure a gorilla foot in math (and) then measure our own feet and compare and contrast. We measure out each part of the gorilla and make a life-sized gorilla."

Cervantes said some activities get students to imagine living in Rwanda, and others have them writing about it.

"We have some kids writing five pages on why we are going to save the gorillas," she said. "That's a lot for kids this age."

An adventure walk with local conservationist Bill Resch also helps students compare the wetlands of Swickard Park with the rainforests of Rwanda.

While students are learning about the rainforest and how to conserve, recycle and reuse, Cervantes said, they're also earning money for PIC.

Students learn that walking is a big part of living in Rwanda, and they collect pledges for the Adventure Walk.

"We emphasize that cultures are different. This is what they do; they have to walk mile and miles," Cervantes said. "They don't have cars."

The Adventure Walk is not the only fundraiser for the PIC program.

A family culture fest, slated for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 10 in the school's dining hall, also will raise money.

Cervantes said a bike raffle, baskets, jewelry and T-shirts will be available at the event and proceeds will go to PIC.

"Last year, we raised between $8,000 and $9,000," she said. "The community has been great."

The family culture fest also will feature student artwork, performances and activities for the family. One of the activities will give attendees an opportunity to learn how to carry water on their heads.

Proceeds raised through PIC will go to efforts to buy bikes for teachers in Rwanda and stoves for the indigenous people.

jnoblit@thisweeknews.com