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Kindergarten teacher caps off a favorite Chautauqua program

Jamie Olive is only 6 years old, but he already knows that a peregrine falcon can fly as fast as a cheetah can run.

Jamie, along with his classmates in Pam Haulman’s kindergarten class at Chautauqua Elementary School, also knows that peregrine falcons, as well as a whole host of other feathered, furry and fishy creatures, are endangered animals, worthy of special protection and care.

It’s all part of a special classroom unit on animal conservation that Haulman began teaching in 1992, when she worked at Edmonds Elementary School. When Haulman was hired in 2000 to teach kindergarten on Vashon, she brought the project here. Now, Haulman is retiring, and along with her, the program.

Every year, for more than a dozen years, each of Haulman’s pint-sized island students has been assigned a different endangered animal to study and draw, and each has also given a presentation to his or her entire class about that animal. Haulman has also annually created note cards and notepads that show off the children’s drawings. Parents have gone out and sold those products, netting a considerable amount of money to adopt endangered animals at local zoos and fund other animal conservation projects.

Haulman estimates that over the years, she and her students have raised close to $50,000 to donate to the cause of protecting endangered species.

The project culminates each year with a field trip, when Haulman takes her students to a zoo to see some of the creatures they have studied.

According to Haulman, a petite 66-year-old teacher who doesn’t stand much taller than some of the children in her classroom, the project has always been meaningful to her students.

“Everyone learns a little bit about their fellow students’ animals,” she said. “And they always associate that animal with that child. It sticks with them — it’s really cool that they can remember that.”

Community support of the project, Haulman said, has also been strong.

“People on Vashon are environmentally aware,” she said. “And this is a community of artists that value our primitive drawings.”

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Haulman’s classroom was buzzing with excitement as her students and a few parents gathered to take a look at this year’s notepads, just delivered from the printer. Each page — 40 in all — had a drawing by a different one of Haulman’s morning and afternoon students. Their names were neatly printed next to their depictions of wildlife and fauna, including poison dart frogs, wombats, scarlet macaws, arctic foxes, Mediterranean monk seals, polar bears and many other threatened species.

Most of the students were eager to talk with a classroom visitor about the animals they had drawn and studied.

Abbie Caughell pointed to her drawing of a creature from Madagascar with a heart-shaped face and pointy ears.

“My animal is an aye-aye,” she said. “It’s like a monkey, but it has a very long finger.”

Another student, Eliza Liebo, seemed more interested in the fundraising aspect of the project.

“My animal was the walrus,” she said. “Are you going to buy some notepads?”

Liebo’s mother, Jenn Liebo, who was volunteering in the class that afternoon, had a different, broader perspective on the project and her daughter’s time in Haulman’s care.

“There is just a sense of calm in this classroom,” Liebo said, noting the order and structure that Haulman had provided to her students as they worked on the project. “The kids can focus on what they came here to do.”

This year’s endangered animal project has a special significance. After a run of more than two decades, it’s the last time Haulman will teach the unit — she’s retiring from teaching in June.

After her classroom emptied of students at 3:30 p.m., Haulman had time to reflect on her 13 years at Chautauqua and her life in a small community that seemed in some ways to be almost as endangered as the animals she has taught her children about each year.

“This is what I love about teaching on Vashon,” she said. “Everywhere I go, I see children and families I know. I like being down at the beach, and having them come up to me. It’s a blessing to have that, and another way of being connected to them.”

To purchase notepads ($8 for a set of three, or three sets for $20), contact phaulman@vashonsd.org.

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