He could have been Pingu, Yogi, Blackberry or Bob, but the Grade 5 class at Coquihalla Elementary School decided S’more was a better fit for the name of their newly adopted 35-kilogram rescued black bear.
S’more is a more unorthodox choice of pet for grade school classrooms, which usually house hamsters, guinea pigs, or if the teacher is adventurous, a snake or iguana. And if it wasn’t for Grade 5 teacher Danny Froese and enterprising parent Catherine Friemark, the black bear may never have become the classroom favourite he now is.
Around Christmas, Catherine Freimark and her daughter Violette were thinking of what to get Froese. Not wanting to clutter his cupboards with another ‘best teacher in the world’ mug, the family decided on something different.
“She remembers me saying that I wanted a class pet, but I didn’t want all the work,” Froese said.
The idea of adopting a wild animal came from the family’s visit to Wolf Haven, a wolf sanctuary in Washington State, where Freimark spotted a classroom adoption kit. She decided to contact Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers, where S’more is currently hibernating, to ask about doing the same for a bear.
The shelter takes in injured and orphaned wildlife including owls, otters and wolves, with a goal of returning them to the wild. It is a small operation, run by five people, and co-founder and manager Angelika Langen said the classroom adoption is the first one the shelter has done.
Caught by a conservation officer in Quesnel together with his sister in October 2017 after his mother was hit by a car, S’more arrived at Northern Lights and was put into hibernation a few weeks later. Despite not having a lot of information about S’more, more will follow once he wakes up, hands flew up around the classroom when asked what they had learned so far.
“They can be found in Canada, Northern Mexico and the United States of America. They can live up to 20 years old in the wild. Cubs are born in January and February,” Keira Brunn presented.
Jade Wood said she didn’t know bears ate apples, in fact apples are S’more’s favourite food.Kastor Hansen said he learned bears can weigh up to 450 pounds.
“I didn’t know they were actually such good climbers,” said Violette Freimark. “They can climb up to half a tree, that’s an adult bear. Baby bears can climb three-quarters.”
The class then continued to share their bear stories, with one student telling the story of a black bear he saw in his yard the night before.
The students have integrated S’more into their curriculum with a creative writing assignment, imagining what S’more’s life will be like once he awakes.
“A couple of them got creative, a little silly, a couple of them were a little more realistic,” Froese said. Once again, hands flew up when Froese asked his class to present their stories.
There are also plans for bear art once S’more awakes.
The students live in a place which black bears frequent, so the knowledge they gain through S’more can be life-saving for other bears.
“It’s a great chance to educate. People that have a personal investment, it’s their bear, they named it…it gives a great opportunity to educate kids about bears and what they are and how they behave,” Langen said. “It might take some of the fears and myths away too.”
These fears humans have, who come in contact with bears, may lead to conflict situations and to bears being put down.
“To have a bear is usually a scary thing. But when you actually have a bear cub it’s interesting,” said Gretel Sims. “You get to see videos or photos, it’s really neat.”
Langen said education, in particular educating young people, is always a welcome opportunity at Northern Wildlife.
“The young people are really, really important because that’s the generation that has to take over when we can’t do it anymore,” she said.
There are also intangible things Freimark hopes students learn.
“It really brought forward to the kids, I think, the idea of giving back to the community and that a pet doesn’t have to be something that you pick up in a pet store,” she said.
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