Pandas Serve as a Furry Textbook

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Giant pandas who make their home at a research center in China. Photo by Tamara Wong.
Giant pandas who make their home at a research center in China. Photo by Tamara Wong.

Third grade teacher Tamara Wong picked up a passion for pandas as a child. A book report about the animals she completed in third grade started her fascination and resulted in her life-long advocacy for the endangered species, says a school district announcement.

As an El Morro Elementary teacher, Wong shared her affection for giant pandas with her students. One former student, Leanne Huynh, was so inspired by her teacher’s compassion for the plight of the pandas, that two years ago Huynh helped Wong and her current third grade students establish a service project to raise donations for the World Wildlife Federation.

Students made panda decorated cupcakes to sell at lunch. Though the cupcakes sold out quickly before the upper grade’s lunch break, fourth and fifth grade students still donated their money to their cause.

This year, Huynh silkscreened panda t-shirts for Wong’s class. Together with second grade teacher Roberta Goodman and teacher’s aide Bundy Kinder, the students sold 500 cupcakes and raised $1,000 for the pandas.

Over spring break, Wong fulfilled a lifelong dream to see pandas of all ages by traveling to Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China, and the Panda Research Center. She hand-delivered the students’ donation and their handwritten letters to scientists, who were touched by the students’ generosity and concern. The donations will be used to assist research and help preserve the native habitat of the giant pandas. Scientists say fewer than 2,000 remain living in the wild.

Never to miss a teachable moment, Wong created a book about the trip to share with students, deepening the service project’s cross-curricular impact by incorporating science, language arts, math and social studies.

“Allowing students to participate in this service project has helped them gain a greater appreciation of nature and the perils of animal endangerment,” she said. “Immersing them into community service at a young age helps to instill empathy towards others and creates social awareness of the world around them. My class wanted to do their part to help the pandas survive for many more generations to enjoy.”

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