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GPA Kindergartners Organize Change Drive for Koalas Affected by Australia Fires

Each year, the kindergartners in Kate Kingsley’s Montessori Early School class adopt an animal. It arrives to the class in plush form, and comes with an introduction letter that includes background on where it’s from and some of its habits, as well as a request for the class to take care of it during its visit, which lasts the duration of the school year.

The project is an adaptation of the tradition started by retired GPA Montessori Directress Peggy Varty, whose kindergarteners cared for the GPA bulldog mascot by bringing it home for a week, and writing about and sharing the adventures the bulldog experienced. Kingsley’s students learn about and care for an animal each year. Past years’ animals have included a tiger named Nepal and a giraffe named Gigi.  

Kate Kingsley’s Kindergarten Class, from bottom to top: Britton, Charlotte, Louis, Amar, Sofia, April, Giuliana, Alexandra and Niko.

This year’s animal is Banjo the koala, who arrived to the classroom in a box with air holes in it, labeled, “Live Animal. Handle with Care.” Students learned that Banjo lives in Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the world’s largest koala sanctuary located in Australia’s state of Queensland and that koala bears are actually not bears, but marsupials, and that sometimes they sleep up to 20 hours a day. 

As part of the project, kindergartners are charged with bringing Banjo home for a week at a time, and documenting their adventures with the koala bear through photographs, drawings and written journal entries, all of which are shared with classmates and kept in a collective album. This process continues, with students hosting Banjo multiple times each, until the end of the school year, when he must return to his home.

Kingsley said that when her kindergartners returned from winter break, some had heard about the devastating bushfires in Australia. They talked about the news as a group, and students became concerned about Banjo’s home and family. What if he returned home, only to discover he no longer had one? They wondered what they could do to help. 

Kingsley asked students to think it over and talk to their families that night. They brought back a lot of great ideas, including sending blankets, wraps for burnt koala paws and water, but Kingsley explained that those items would be difficult to send. “Then someone said, ‘what about money from our piggy banks?’” said Kingsley, and that’s how the idea for the change drive came about. 

“Many of the kindergartners in this group have a passion for animals” Kingsley said. “They were very upset when they heard about the fires and its endangerment to the animals.” Although Kingsley was touched by their strong desire to help Banjo and his family, she wasn’t surprised. “I am beyond proud of their kind hearts and dedication to Banjo. Each one of them contributed their own thoughts and ideas. I am grateful to support them and am thankful to everyone that has embraced the cause by donating. Every Montessori teacher hopes that the lessons we teach through our peace curriculum about kindness and empathy will somehow transfer into their everyday lives… this is a perfect example!” 

The philanthropic angle of this year’s animal adoption project has allowed Kingsley to bring in even more practical life learning to the Montessori classroom. Not only do students get the creative writing and responsibility piece of the project, they now practice fundraising, public speaking and math skills as well. 

Kingsley’s kindergarten students presented their cause to each Early School class, then handed out flyers they helped create about the change drive. “We went to all the classrooms and collected the money,” said Charlotte. “Then we put them into cups with numbers on them.” Each day since the drive began on January 21, students collect money from each Early School class, place the change in cups labeled with the coin’s value, then count up the totals. They’ve collected over $100 so far, all of which will be sent to the World Wildlife foundation, who will use the money to plant trees and help restore koala habitats.

When asked about the change drive, Kingley’s students were eager to share. “We want to try to help Australia koalas so they can make their homes,” said Alexandria. “Koalas could get extinct,” said Britton, to which Niko replied, “And if the koalas get extinct, there will be no more left.” 

If you would like to contribute to Banjo’s change drive, please bring donations to your homeroom teacher or Early School front desk by Friday, January 31.