PBS film features 'school' in disguiseHope Elephants gains higher profile
Hope — It’s easy to miss the Hope Elephants facility on Route 235 if you don’t know it’s there.
Hidden behind a fence, with no prominent roadside signage, this small project with large ambitions blends into its rural, small town neighborhood surprisingly well.
That may change, though, when the Maine Public Broadcasting Network locally airs “Is School Enough?” an hour-long film directed by Stephen Brown that features what Hope Elephants Director Andrew Stewart called, “a school hidden within an elephant barn,” along with other innovative approaches to education. The show is available to stream online here.
The film’s creation during summer and fall 2012 coincided with Hope Elephants’ preparations to receive its first elephant, Rosie, a retired circus animal. David Munson, who was in charge of the organization’s education programs at the time, secured a grant for smartphones to be used by students from Rivers Alternative Middle School in Union to photograph plants on the site where Rosie would live. Using the phones, the students posted their pictures with a mobile application called Project Noah that facilitates crowd-sourced identification of plants and animals worldwide. Students also conferred with a botanist at Cornell University to determine whether any of the plants they had found were unsafe for elephants.
The result? “I think we were all clear,” said Stewart.
Munson has since moved on to become Project Noah’s director of education.
PBS crews filmed students as they photographed the flora on the site, interviewed Munson and Hope Elephants founder and veterinarian Dr. Jim Laurita. Also depicted is the journey of Rosie and the organization’s other elephant, Opal, to Hope.
The film, which first aired nationally on PBS stations Sept. 3, provides valuable publicity for Hope Elephants, Stewart said, and for its threefold mission: To rehabilitate Rosie and Opal and discover which therapies work best for the problems, including limb and joint damage, that afflict them. These are common medical issues for elephants, Stewart said, and he hopes to be able to advance treatment for all elephants.
Second, the organization wants to promote education at all levels, both by teaching youngsters and adults about elephants and by using the elephants as a starting point for lessons in a variety of subjects. For example, the teacher resource guide Hope Elephants is developing provides lesson plans to help teachers inspire students while also meeting curriculum standards, Stewart said. He cited a math lesson on measuring the mass of an elephant using a formula. For now, Hope Elephants is focusing primarily on younger students, but it is working to build connections with middle and high school students as well.
One way it is doing that is by partnering with Cornell University’s Elephant Listening Project, which studies elephant communication. Stewart said he hopes the project will place some of its equipment that makes elephants’ low-frequency sounds audible to humans at Hope Elephants, so visitors can learn more about elephant language. He sees such a partnership as a way to connect with high school students.
The organization will offer a professional development day for primary and secondary teachers in the Midcoast Friday, Oct. 11, for which they will receive contact hours, Stewart said. The educators will review Hope Elephants’ education resource guide and help refine it. And Saturday, Oct. 12, there will be a public presentation on elephant communication by Ann Downer, who will sign copies of her book, “Elephant Talk.”
The guide can be downloaded for free from Hope Elephants’ website, or a hard copy can be purchased for $34.99, which includes “Elephant Talk,” a special issue of National Geographic devoted to the poaching of elephants and the illegal trade in ivory, and a CD of original music created to accompany activities in the resource guide.
Stewart said that promoting innovative education was “a major part of what we’re trying to do here. … Anything that can be added to enrich a child’s excitement about learning is a good thing.”
The third part of Hope Elephants’ mission is conservation, which Stewart noted includes education about living conditions for wild elephants. For example, the organization will offer lessons via Skype for schools in Hong Kong, the main port for ivory going into China, where $1 billion worth of poached elephant tusks are sold annually, he said.
Stewart also envisions his organization contributing to better education in the countries where elephants are exploited, in order to raise the standard of living and provide alternatives to poaching.
Because the conservation aspect of its mission is so vast, involving a large geographic area and complex problems, Stewart said Hope Elephants will collaborate with existing groups working on various aspects of the issue. One of these is another local organization, Littlefield Home in Union, which sponsors an orphanage in Malawi.
While an elephant’s natural lifespan is 40 to 60 years, he said, most wild elephants do not get to live that long because human development destroys their habitat and poachers are killing them at a rate of 30,000 to 40,000 a year. Stewart hopes the work of Hope Elephants can help to change that.
“Rosie and Opal are our ambassadors for elephants everywhere,” he said.
Courier Publications reporter Sarah Reynolds can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.
Sarah E. Reynolds is a reporter for the Camden Herald.
Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, hike and play word games.
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