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Ostriches have powerful legs to run, monarch butterflies blend with their surroundings, armadillos play dead and springboks jump to intimidate their attackers.

Those were some of the lessons that the West Jefferson Elementary School fourth graders explained during the culmination of a module about animals’ defenses against predators. They presented their findings at a recent exhibition for parents.

Students have spent the past few months researching and writing about the animals, including a creative story that showed how the animals defended themselves against predators. Then the students in Rob Cooper’s and Charity Witherell’s classes worked together to paint murals depicting their animals without their teachers’ guidance.

The vast amount of work the students put into their papers, presentations and murals was evident, and parents listened intently as their students taught them about animals’ defense strategies.

After the presentations, parents said the module allowed their children to write both factual reports and creative stories, collaborate with others, and work on speaking in public — all important skills that will aid them later in life.

Fourth grader Lyla Marras said she enjoyed learning about armadillos, especially writing both the essay and story, while fourth grader Brylan Hogzett called the springbok he studied “awesome,” noting that he knew little about the animal until researching it for the project. He explained that springboks jump about two meters in the air—called pronking—to intimidate predators.

 Witherell said the animal-defense unit is a yearly experience for students, though the murals were added this year.

Fourth grader Ellie Combs wrote about Olive the ostrich, who was looking for some delicious food when Claire the cheetah began stalking her. Ellie explained that Olive had two choices, hiding or running away, and she asked the audience to choose which would be a better strategy. Based on the audience’s response, Olive ran and Claire gave chase, but Olive had more endurance, so she could run a longer distance.

Fourth grader Sawyer Jensen wrote about Tyreek the springbok, who was happily drinking water from a lake when Bo the cheetah came by, hoping for a tasty meal. Tyreek started jumping “like a bunny,” so Bo gave up and left to find other food.

Witherell told parents about the writing portion of the module: “They were very creative, using a lot of descriptive language. Each student is sharing from the author’s chair (to read from their work). It means so much to them and to us as well that you came here for the presentations.”