By Michelle Williams
Students returning to Stonegate Elementary after summer break can expect to learn a little more about elephants this year. That is because Kyla McDaniel – or Mrs. McDaniel, as her third grade students know her – has just taken a trip to Nairobi, Kenya. McDaniel was one of the 100 recipients of the 2015 Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowships, and her award sent her to Africa to be among the elephants.
“I have loved elephants for as long as I can remember. I had watched a piece on the news on the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and fell in love with what they do,” Mcdanial said. She applied for a grant through the Lilly Endowment with a plan to visit the orphanage and learn more about elephants. Her plans became a reality in June.
The Lilly Endowment aims to award K-12 educators opportunities to recharge personally and professionally with the hopes that they will better engage and challenge their students in turn. McDaniel already has a plan for how she intends to do just that.
“I’m going to have my class pick an elephant that we can all foster together and keep track of,” she said. Once the class adopts their own baby elephant, the orphanage will send a newsletter with educational information about the animals. McDaniel also intends to organize a supply drive for a one-room school she visited on her trip.
Prior to her trip, McDaniel created a blog at mrsmcdanielephant.wordpress.com where her students and colleagues could keep tabs on her African journey. McDaniel posted images and descriptions of her activities over the course of her travels.
While in Kenya, McDaniel was able to interact directly with the young elephants during their mud baths and as they were readapting to a life in the wild. She met one foster elephant who was intensely shy of humans after having seen his mother killed by poachers. She believes the elephant will always remember his traumatic experience and talked about the truth behind the phrase “an elephant never forgets.”
McDaniel will certainly never forget her experience with the majestic creatures, and she will undoubtedly return to school in the fall with a deep enthusiasm to share knowledge and inspiration with her students.
Community members interested in supporting McDaniel’s school supply drive may contact her at KMcDaniel@zcs.k12.in.us.