OTSEGO, Minn. - As a second grade teacher Erin Rehnblom is used to improvising.
So when her uncle informed Rhenblom he'd adopted a baby elephant for her students at Otsego Elementary, Rehnblom saw a path to a lesson plan that will carry her students through the year.
"In the beginning, it was hard for them to understand that the elephant had to stay in Africa, and we couldn't go to Africa," said Rehnblom.
The elephant, named Lemoyian, was an orphan. Rescuers pulled him our of the man-made well he'd fallen into. His mother ran away during the commotion.
Unable to reunite the family, rescuers took the baby to a shelter for orphaned elephants and rhinos operated through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
"He eats, sleeps, plays with other elephants," volunteered second graders Hunter Kasper Wiltcheck and Ethean Smelter.
He also teaches. "We get a monthly update, and his keeper will keep a journal," said Rehnblom. "The elephant, in some of the journal entries, has to decide who to follow and who to be friends with at the orphanage, and so the kids are connecting with their own personal experiences at school."
Geography was a natural lesson, as the kids tried to imagine how far away Africa is from Otsego.
Students also connected with Rehnblom's uncle in Africa using Skype, adding a technology piece to their lessons.
Pictures and videos from Africa show students how fast Lemoyian is growing.
Rehnblom also sought a way to help the kids physically connect with their adopted pet.
"You'll see in the pictures he's always wearing a blanket," said Rehnblom. "He's separated from his mom, so he needs that physical touch."
Rehnblom decided that could be the class project. "So we're making a blanket with the Otsego colors to send."
Rehnblom is hoping for a picture of Lemoyian wearing the blanket.
Students seem to understand they have something pretty special, even if they never get to see Lemoyian in person.
"I never had a pet elephant, so it's pretty cool," said second grader Tyler Weeks.
"I think I'll always do this now, just seeing how they've reacted and how interested they are, and the learning that it's created in my class, " said Rehnblom. "It's just a great experience."
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