Since before 1990, Ray School students have been investigating bears: teddy bears, sloth bears, pandas, spectacled bears, sun bears, grizzly bears, polar bears, and black bears. They learn that black bears are important inhabitants of our backyard habitats and our habitat studies.
In 1999, when Alice Ashton was in Mrs. Jernstedt’s first grade class and started to study bears, her father, Bob Ashton, volunteered to bring in a real life-size stuffed bear that was in their home. The bear was from New England, and when it was found dead, it was taken to a taxidermist for preserving.
Given its size, the bear was either a young male or a mature female. Each year when Alice Ashton was at the Ray School, Bob Ashton would knock on the door of the Room 4 K-1 class in February and ask if they would like to have Black Bear return for their bear studies. After five years of such visits, Mr. Ashton asked if they would like to have Black Bear to keep at the Ray School.
Black Bear has been busy in the K-l pod from February to April every year since it first arrived. When Bear is not in use in a classroom, Mr. Stewart provides Black Bear with a good place for sleeping. Each year in April, Benjamin Kilham of Lyme, NH, has come to talk with first grade students about black bears. Mr. Kilham is a naturalist, scientist, animal rehabilitator, and author of the book, Among the Bears. Several documentaries by National Geographic and others have been made of Ben and his work with New England black bears.
Black Bear has been well loved by students at the Ray School. Special thanks got to Bob Ashton for donating Black Bear to the Ray School. Special thanks also go to Dave Stewart for his good-humored care and help in moving Black Bear to the very best places in our school! Black Bear has even been known to appear in a teacher’s or an administrator’s office on days when a rousing wake-up might be helpful!