Animals are helping students learn at Southgate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 12, 2002

The kindergarten, fourth and fifth grade students listened in awe, as they heard the large, bright blue and gold Macaw say hello to the crowd.

Vianca, a white cockatoo, was the opening act of the show along with Toby the tortoise and Jeanne the garden snake. They also helped to convey the importance of personal space, attitudes and rules to students Monday at Southgate Elementary School during a special presentation.

"Friends and Choices," the name of the presentation by Critters & Company, uses animals and storytelling as a medium and their stories to share with the students relationship building concepts.

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"It was a great show and impressive to see how he kept the students attention" said Lisa Deyo, a fourth grade teacher at Southgate.

Deyo was awarded a mini-grant of $500 by Educators Personal Insurance Center (EPIC), an auto/homeowner insurance company that deals with educators throughout Minnesota.

She wrote the grant to EPIC presenting the number of students, how it would impact the students and the particular circumstances of the school.

Southgate's student population is about 530, including 64 kids learning English, seven severely disabled, 29 learning disabled and six students needing emotional and behavioral assistance, according to Deyo. The potential for students to encounter problems with making choices always exists.

"Making good choices and how to act toward others are some of the objectives that we work on all the time. So this program fits our needs," said Nancy Clark, an English as a second language teacher at Southgate.

Deyo had seen Critters & Company perform before and noted the effect it had on its audience. Because of the lean budgets and few funds, Deyo along with Parent and Teacher Organization (PTO) sought assistance from EPIC.

"It's great to know that there this support and we have the opportunity to try out this kind of projects. They (EPIC) are very supportive with any venue that enhances education," Deyo said.

The mini-grant covered most of the $648 cost and the rest was paid by the PTO fundraising.

Gregory Olson, the main presenter of the show, came up with the idea of Critters & Company about 10 years ago because of the need he saw in working with children, and teenagers in group family foster homes.

"My audience is from kindergarten through 85,"

Olson said.

A lot of the concepts covered Olson said, are universal so what often changes is mainly the language used for different age groups.

The message teaching "Tough messages through gentle messengers" is to help people understand, respect and treat each other with courtesy.

Olson uses live animals and their stories to deliver messages to students and their teacher. In this particular presentation, Olson used a cockatoo, Macaw (South and Central American parrot), snake, tortoise and dog to present the concept of friends and choices that are made in everyday life.

Critters & Company also provides presentations for corporations, staff development and teacher in services.

"We play. We just have fun. Basically, reach out and try to make a difference," Olson said.

Roxana Orellana can be reach at 434-2214 or by e-mail at