Piney Ridge explores the rain forest SOUTHEAST -- Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber * Marriottsville

With posters, maps, puzzles and games, a group of 10-year-old environmentalists expounded on conservation to their schoolmates.

The fifth grade at Piney Ridge Elementary changed places yesterday with their teacher, Misti Zimmerman, and offered five continuous workshops on the rain forest.


"We are here to tell you about rain forest destruction and what will happen if people don't stop it," said Joey Hearn to a group of second-grade children. "Does anybody know where rain forests are?"

To Joey's surprise, "these guys know a lot." The younger children identified several countries, marked in green, on his map.


"Where is Hawaii?" said one second-grade child. "There's one there."

"We didn't have room on the map for it," said Joey.

The visiting classes moved to the different exhibits, where fifth-grade students discussed plant and animal life, products, forest layers and atmosphere in the world's declining rain forests.

"If we had a week, we could do a lot more," said Chris Vasse. "Five minutes at each place is just not much time."

Ms. Zimmerman said the activity was the culmination of eight weeks of work, which included preparing the exposition, reading and research.

"It has been an adventure for all of us," she said. "I have learned right along with the children."

Eric Brennan developed a pictorial history.

"In the past, the forest was green and full of life," he said, pointing to his panels with a borrowed pointer. "Now, it is threatened. In the future, there could be nothing left."


Katie Kinsey played rain forest Jeopardy to a captive audience. With her hints, contestants won easily.

She asked, "How many layers does a rain forest have?" and whispered, "Look at the chart."

"They all did great," said Katie. "They understood the problem and liked our game."

Kristin Duffy created two Lego exhibits -- one filled with greenery and wild animals, the other a barren land marked with tree stumps.

"We don't know how many animals live in the rain forest," she said. "We are destroying their homes before scientists can even discover them."

Ms. Zimmerman asked her class to invent new animal and plant species, which could live in the forests. Vivid descriptions and colorful pictures of the creatures lined the walls of the classroom.


Thomas Schwartz imagined a red, white and blue flying monkey, which digs for earthworms with its 10-foot tongue. Alicia Green's chocolate butterfly eats chocolate beans and drops dust to help trees grow. Justin Gardner's multipurpose plant cures diseases such as cancer and AIDS, devours garbage and breathes in pollution.

At the products display, the schoolchildren passed out samples of typical rain forest food. Most of the unfamiliar dried fruit and coconuts went untouched.

"Nobody wanted to try anything but the orange slices," said Sheena O'Neill.

"What are these things anyway?" asked one young child, returning a handful of nuts to her hosts.

Chris spouted off numerous well-known items, from rubber-soled shoes to construction materials, that come from the rain forests. He told children how the balsa wood used in their model airplanes probably grew in Indonesia.

"Nobody knows Indonesia," he said, exasperated. "Maybe, they should come to each of us twice. We could give a refresher course the second time."


Fifth-graders are doing their part to save the rain forests. They have written to several conservation groups, and they are saving $35 to buy their own tropical acre.

In the past two weeks, the class has filled an "adopt-an-acre" bucket with $20 of their own money. They hope to send the money to the Nature Conservancy, sponsors of the program, and become "landowners" by Christmas.

"The money can't come from parents," said Ms. Zimmerman. "Many children have given up ice cream for the project."

Some said a missed treat is a small price to pay.

"Most of our oxygen comes from down there, and we are losing an acre every 30 seconds," said Donald Martz. "We have got to save the forests."

Other conservation suggestions included a boycott of rain forest products and reducing the use of wood in new construction by renovating existing homes.


"We shouldn't use so much wood," Alicia Green. "Maybe, we could just use cushions instead of wood in our furniture."

Although Ms. Zimmerman's students enjoyed their day of role-reversal, none was planning a teaching career yet.

"Teaching is such hard work," said Sheena. "We keep saying the same stuff over and over so they learn."

"It's pretty tiring," said Justin. "We don't get any breaks."

"And there's a lot of hard words, like Madagascar," added Chris.