A slithering New Year at La Grange school
Aidan Collins, a third-grader from La Grange, watches as Lauren Grimm talks about a snake during the Chinese New Year (Year of the Snake) assembly at Spring Avenue School. | Steve Johnston~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 15, 2013 2:12AM
LA GRANGE — Four Spring Avenue School students were sworn to secrecy about special visitors coming to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
And judging by the gasps of surprise and delight at a morning assembly Feb. 8, mum was the word before several large boxes on a cart rolled into the gym.
“This is Pablo. He’s a California King Snake,” explained Lauren Grimm, a volunteer with the Animals for Awareness rescue center in Palos Park. “They eat whenever they can and whatever they can, rodents, birds and other snakes.”
The visit from Pablo and two fellow rescued reptiles was arranged by parent volunteers Liz Westrick and Patty Morrissey to celebrate the Year of the Snake. The Chinese New Year, based on the lunar calendar, began Feb. 10.
Both families have adopted children from China and shared an annual dose of their heritage centered around the Chinese New Year with stories, short classroom activities and art projects.
“I’ve been doing this every year since my oldest was in kindergarten, and I was surprised at how much the sixth-graders remembered, things I’ve forgotten about,” Westrick said.
This year, all students made coiled green snakes, cut from construction paper, decorated with sequins and markers and hanging from a string. The presenters shared snake facts and told the legend of how the 12 animals competed in a race to win a spot on the Chinese zodiac, a 12-year cycle used for counting years.
But a close encounter with the snakes is what really impressed students as Grimm circulated around the gym, wrapped in the accommodating reptiles. Students were allowed to pet Nexus, a boa, and Bo, a 40-pound albino python.
“It was smooth, not slimy,” fifth-grader Mary Prystalski said of her chance to pet Nexus. “It felt kind of like beads.”
Fourth-grader Jackson Turner said Nexus felt “kind of squishy, but dry.”
Second-grader Hannah Eskra said she expected Bo to be slimy, but he wasn’t, just scaly.
Classmate Patrick Wenstrup said he wasn’t nervous about petting the snakes, because his parents had arranged a reptile birthday party for him two years ago, where he met a python, baby alligator and others.
The brief assembly closed with all the students wishing each other, “Gung Hay Fat Choy,” Mandarin for Happy New Year.