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A trip for the senses

Sights. Sounds. Smells. It's not just another day as the second-graders visit Lowry Park Zoo.

By Letitia Stein
Published May 21, 2007


TAMPA - Mr. Lopez's second-graders jump from their seats as soon as the intercom blares: Mr. Lopez, the buses are here.

"I have not said anybody can go, " Mr. Lopez says, still seated. He dismisses table by table, reminding the class, "ABC order."

The students scramble into alphabetical order. Today is a Field Trip Day, an adventure, finally, after a year spent on task. Order is going to be, well, a tall order.

Fifteen pairs of feet patter down the stairs, past the first-graders with phone numbers on name tags, out the front door. The bus ride from Cleveland Elementary School to Lowry Park Zoo takes five minutes, barely enough time to go over the rules: Sit, buckle up, keep hands to yourself, low voices.

Bleet. Bleet. Mr. Lopez puts the whistle around his neck into action. Students line up to enter the zoo, a sight as exotic as the creatures inside.

"Ooooh, it smells, " 8-year-old Alyssa Velez says, dropping her classmate's hand so she can cover her nose while entering the aviary exhibit.

"Look at that!"

"I see it!"

"Hello, hello, " students call out, hoping to get a parrot's response.

"Mr. Lopez! Mr. Lopez!" Charnai Brown, 8, races to the back of what remains of the line. She gestures to the classmate at her side. "Vicktoria's got bird poop!"

As they exit, Mr. Lopez raises his hand - the class signal for quiet. Student hands fly into the air. ABC order is restored.

Mr. Lopez leads on. Shawn Andujar, 9, can't stop himself from executing an exuberant toe-touch behind his teacher's turned back. Make that two.

Robert Lopez, 38, wants his students to enjoy themselves. This is only their second field trip this year, one of the few accessible to a high-poverty school.

His students ask to feed the giraffes, like the students from other schools on field trips today. If it costs money, the answer is no.

"Giraffe."

"Zebra!"

"Baby elephant."

Mr. Lopez's second-graders have too many distractions to pout. They spot a meerkat exhibit, just like on Animal Planet.

"Hakuna Matata!" students shout through the clear windows. They don't think meerkats speak English.

Bleet. Bleet. Students and meerkats both freeze at Mr. Lopez's whistle. The animals race for cover faster than the students fall into line. "Do it again! Do it again!" the children implore.

Leaving Africa, Mr. Lopez finds little resistance to the line procedures. "ABCs. ABCs, " his class sings in a tired chorus.

As they break for water, everyone wants to know how much longer until lunch. After that, it's back to school.

"Once we get to the alligators, and we do the alligators, " Mr. Lopez says, "then it will be lunch time."

Eight-year-old Larry Burns wants to know what will happen if he falls into the alligator pool.

"It'll be lunch time before you know it."

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or 813 226-3400.