Student from Clarksville Middle spends a week with the elephants

The Baltimore Sun

While many of his friends were attending classes this year at Clarksville Middle School, Kevin McDuffie was roaming an elephant sanctuary in the mountains of Thailand.

The 13-year-old's adventures were documented on the Nickelodeon television show Nick News Adventure: If I Could Talk To The Elephants, which aired July 22.

Kevin, who lives in Clarksville, joined five other youngsters and veteran broadcast journalist Linda Ellerbee for a week in the sanctuary, where the youths learned to feed, bathe, ride, clean up after and, most important, to communicate with the animals.

"It was really hands-on," Kevin said. "It was not like visiting the zoo. You were like a zookeeper."

Although the show was broadcast last month, it was taped in late March and early April.

Kevin, who completed eighth grade this year at Clarksville Middle School, was chosen for the show after writing an essay about his desire to visit Thailand and about his love of animals.

He was selected from thousands of applicants nationwide.

"My parents were really happy for me," Kevin said. "They were kind of sad when I left, but they were very happy for me."

His father, Kevin McDuffie Sr., a recently retired professional basketball player, said he is grateful that his son got the opportunity to travel to Thailand.

"For him to go there before I got the opportunity to go was a dream come true," he said, adding that his son is an accomplished traveler, having visited France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Greece.

"It is wonderful that he was able to go over there and experience a different culture. It gave him the opportunity to meet other kids from different backgrounds."

The younger McDuffie is grateful for the opportunity.

"I had an amazing experience," he said. "I will never forget it. It felt like you were in a jungle. There were animals everywhere. It was a really nice scenario."

Kevin acknowledges that he was a little apprehensive about spending a week in a junglelike setting with no television, video games or other hi-tech equipment.

"It was kind of weird not watching TV and staring at four walls," he said.

While at the sanctuary, Kevin and the crew stayed in the equivalent of cabins: "I was a little scared at night. I heard a lot of sounds from the animals in the jungle. I felt like I was far away from home."

He got to know the other youngsters, who came from various regions of the United States.

"Everyone interacted well," he said. "We became friends."

Kevin and his new-found friends impressed Ellerbee. "On this trip, the only thing that taught me more than the elephants were these six incredible kids." Ellerbee is the show's host and executive producer.

And she made quite an impression on Kevin.

"She was like one of us," he said. "Most stars are more standoffish."

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