Hazel Christian picked up her chair and moved it back about 20 feet during the back to school celebration, which included a cheetah from Wildlife Safari, at Roseburg Junior Academy on Tuesday.
“I’m not going near that thing,” the kindergartner said.
But once Carissa Clendenon, one of the Wildlife Safari educators, started the presentation with cheetah Khayam Jr. and his partner dog Rhino, Hazel stood up and participated along with the rest of the school. She asked and answered questions, and was eager to pet Rhino.
Roseburg Junior Academy Principal Jeff Jackson said he heard about Wildlife Safari visiting schools and thought it’d be a good way to start the academic year at the private school.
The school has 37 students divided into three classrooms; kindergarten, first through third grade, and fourth through eighth grade. Hot lunch is served once a week at Roseburg Junior Academy, and the proceeds from those lunches helped pay for the interaction with the cheetah.
Khayam Jr. arrived a few minutes late — apparently he too was a bit nervous about the first day of school and didn’t want to get in his travel carrier, according to Jackson.
Once he got there, students started trickling into the gymnasium, carrying their chairs as they lined up to sit in front of the stage.
Many were excited to see the cheetah, but perhaps none more than fifth grader Liezl Eisenbrey. Liezl wore a cheetah print shirt and skirt for the occasion.
“I’ve seen it two times, and this is my third time seeing the cheetah,” she said. “I like how fast they run.”
Cheetahs can run at speeds of nearly 70 miles per hour. But it was Liezl’s knowledge of another big cat fact that earned her an artistic paw print made by Khayam Jr. — cheetah have between 2,000 and 3,000 spots.
After Khayam Jr. had a chance to explore most of the gym and stage, even licking some of the stage curtains, and Clendenon finished her presentation, students worked in small groups to make posters about cheetahs.
“I really liked it,” fourth grader Grace Jackson said.
Hazel also seemed to have recovered from her fear as she drew a picture of the big cat and acknowledged that baby cheetahs are cute.