Lions, tigers and bears: Oh my!
SAFE BASE kicked off its summer program Wednesday with students camping under the stars among animals at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita.
Each week during June SAFE BASE will take a trip to a different destination, made possible by a $100,000 grant received earlier this year.
Students, third through eighth grade, gathered in Lincoln Elementary Wednesday afternoon to load two school buses and fill a trailer with camping gear and duffle bags. Students were divided into groups of three. For every three students there was an adult chaperone. Some were SAFE BASE veterans, and there was a smattering of new faces.
“I hadn’t even heard about it before,” said Bailey Myers, a SAFE BASE leader from Humboldt. “My boyfriend had told me about some of the kids he worked with in the past so I thought it sounded pretty cool.”
Everyone headed west around 4 p.m. and after a pit stop in El Dorado, made it to the zoo a little after 6:30.
Two zookeepers greeted the group. Several small groups immediately started to set up their tents next to giraffes, a chore they accomplished with ease.
Gene Myrick, one of the leaders, had instructed the kids on how to set up tents days prior to the trip so they would be prepared. Myrick is retired military and is sold on SAFE BASE.
“This program teaches these kids things like trust, honesty and discipline,” Myrick said.
If one group was struggling with a tent, others stepped up to help.
“We are a team,” Myrick said. “From the community right down to these kids.”
After the tents were up, the kids traveled to the learning center to meet zoo keepers and a special guest — they were permitted to be up close and personal with two red snakes.
The group was given special permission to cook inside the zoo. Middle schoolers prepared hot dogs, baked beans and chips for the rest of the group, to the melodic call of nearby peacocks.
During dinner, SAFE BASE director Angela Henry gushed her excitement of all being able to do this trip.
“I would like everyone to take a few minutes and tell us what part of the trip you’ve liked so far,” Henry said.
After dinner, the kids were given tours of the zoo. They saw bears, cougars, wolves and other animals native to North America.
“The cougar growled at us,” Keegan XX said. “It was pretty cool.”
Some kids claimed they heard wolves howl during the middle of the night while others said they could hear geese.
BRIGHT AND very early the next morning younger kids prepared pancakes for all, while others packed up the camping equipment.
The kids were able to go with their leaders through the zoo and visit all the exhibits. Kindergarten through second grade arrived at the zoo around 10 Thursday morning to join the others.
The jungle exhibit was a big hit, an indoor exhibit that had birds flying in a jungle setting and an underwater tunnel.
“I liked the jungle because it had a lot of birds in it,” Zareona Pulley, a fourth grader said.
A fellow fourth grader Emma McBurney agreed.
“The jungle was my favorite,” McBurney said. “I liked looking at the perinea and the sting ray.”
“Seeing the animals was my favorite part,” Zackorie Milton, an eighth grader, said. “My favorite was the rhino and the bird cage.”
“This next month will be long and hard for everyone but at the end of June all the stuff will be worth it when you see the kids smiling,” Myrick said.
Next up for SAFE BASE is a journey to Hannibal, Mo., to visit the home town of Mark Twain.