Students from Berlin Brothersvalley School District took a wild field trip on Wednesday. They visited the Pittsburgh Zoo’s International Conservation Center in Somerset County to help install hay feeders for the elephants.
The students designed and built the feeders for a class project.
“It’s a great feeling. It’s not something you get to say everyday, ‘I helped build an elephant feeder.’ said Charlie Hersch, a high school senior. “Not everybody gets to do that and to know that I got to help work on something like that is just a great feeling.”
Over the past six months, the students designed and built six remote-controlled, suspended hay feeders for the elephants.
“Now seeing it up it’s like wow. This is incredible,” said Alex Hay, another senior.
Jackson the 40-year-old African elephant stands 11 feet tall and weighs 11,000 pounds. The class had to make sure the feeders were sturdy.
“We had to go with the thickness of the metal, the type of metal and the different supports and the wench design and everything else,” said Dan Miller, the agriculture teacher.
Wednesday, the students helped install one of the feeders, which swivel and provide the elephants with mental stimulation.
“We want them physically healthy and mentally healthy,” said Thomas Bakke, the senior elephant keeper.
The center got a $50,000 grant from the Laurel Foundation to build different feeders for the elephants. Bakke enlisted the help of agriculture and welding students at Berlin Brothersvalley High School to design and build the feeders.
“Basically, I had an idea of what I wanted them to look like, but really, it was the kids that made it possible,” Bakke said.
“The kids really put a lot of time and effort into it. They took a lot of pride in welding and what it’s going to look like,” said Dan Miller, the agriculture teacher.
Bakke said this class project is a learning experience like no other.
“You never know exactly what those kids in the classroom are going to turn into. You could have a president or a zookeeper or something else extraordinary come out of it that could make a difference in saving a species,” Bakke said.
As for the students, installing the feeder and watching Jackson have snack was a wild and rewarding experience.
“Hopefully, they’ll enjoy it as much as I did working on the project,” Hay said.
“Definitely something that will stick with me for the rest of my life,” said Hersch.