One of the ideas behind the Zenith Program at Camden Hills Regional High School is to give students with an alternative learning style the ability excel.

Recently, students in the program were given the task to design an educational program for young learners that will be housed in the new education center at Hope Elephants.

Nathan Larlee, at teacher at Zenith, said in September the students were tasked with coming up with an interactive learning experience about elephants.

“The first step was to ask the kids, how do you learn?” Larlee said.” We discovered that it was hands-on kind of things that the students got the biggest benefit from.”

It was also an opportunity for the students to acquire a certain type of skill set that would help them far beyond the classroom — problem solving skills.

“Somewhere along the line, these students were made to feel like they could not be successful,” Larlee said of Zenith students. “By learning and using the skills that it took to do this project they feel a sense of accomplishment and pride.”

Students worked on many different types of learning stations to educate younger students and, in a sense, became the resident experts in the field. Students created a board game, elephant trivia, a scale model of an elephant head and a measuring board that allows students to see how tall they are compared to a pachyderm. One student even reworked the game Operation to change it from a human to an elephant in order to explain which organs are where.

“It is pretty amazing to me how quickly the kids took ownership of the project and they have done some pretty spectacular things.” Larlee added.

As the project got under way, the Zenith students took what they learned on the road to Lincolnville Central School to teach younger generations about elephants.

“I am all for this,” said Zenith student Sydnie Hendricks. “When they told me what the project was going to be and we were going to teach the younger kids, I said 'great, this is something I can do.' I would like to be teacher someday so when I heard it would be helping kids learn I was all in.”

Zenith student Makayla Witham enjoyed the hands-on part of creating the elephant head and said she feels she learned the importance of not giving up on the project when it wasn’t working the way she liked.

“We started with some black hose for the trunk, but we felt that it needed more so we decided to add the whole head,” Witham said. “We didn’t like the way it was coming out so we took a break and when I came back to it, we decided to make it look as real as we could — and I think it came out awesome.”

Witham added, “it was important to be able to listen to others ideas on how to make the head and what it should look like and just stay with it.”

Zenith student Cody Agnor said one of the most important things he got out of the project is anything worth doing is done right.

“I had to become more organized and take my time to do my best.” Agnor said. “I worked on the elephant society board and I’m proud of the way it came out. I learned that it really needed to be user friendly and that I had to listen to other's ideas to really make it work.”

The projects created by the high school students with assistance from the Zenith staff will be displayed at Hope Elephants for years to come. Student Chris Pettee said one of the major things he got out of the project was how to take an idea and make it happen.

“I learned to organize, make a list of materials I was going to need and how to actually do it,” he said.

Another aspect of the project Pettee is proud of is that the display will be seen by potentially thousands of students visiting Hope Elephants.

“I’m proud of what we did, it looks good for the Zenith program and gives us a good reputation in the community,” he said.

Students involved in the project include Witham, Hendrick, Agnor, Pettee, Jason Corbett, Katlyn Byors, Jasmine Dennis and Ben Hodgson.

“Our goal is to have kids deliver the class to kids,” said Dr. Jim Laurita, executive director of Hope Elephants. “Who do kids listen to? Other kids. And these (Zenith) kids are awesome! They have already gone down to the lower grades and have begun telling them about elephants and it makes us proud of the educational opportunities that we can provide.”

Laurita said Hope Elephants is in the final phases of a curriculum that with be available for teachers to take back and review in workshop to help give students a better learning experience.

“It gives them a tool to do some preparatory teaching so that when the group comes we know what they have learned and we can focus questions on that information,” he said.

Camden Herald reporter Dwight Collins can be reached at 236-8511 or dcollins@courierpublicationsllc.com.