By Rich Bockmann
At the turn of the millenium, the students in June Manley’s first-grade class spent a lot of time learning about animals.
“We went to the Bronx Zoo six times,” Manley recalled in the library of PS 169 at 18-25 215th St. last week. A number of her students from the class of 2000, now grown and on their way to college, reassembled to fulfill their plan to open the time capsules they created at a time when Pokémon dominated their lives.
The former students arrived at the Bayside school the evening of June 8 with their parents, who recalled their involvement with a childhood education project.
“We helped our kids pick out a book about their animal and then they saw them eat at the zoo,” said Staci Karow, whose daughter, Olivia, picked a wolf. “Everything [Manley] did was amazing. Parents are so active in the first grade.”
Manley, who is now retired, said the students learned everything about their animal: where they lived, what they called their young, what they ate. The culmination of the animal unit was the Critter Cafe, where the students donned animal costumes they created out of paper bags and dined on a buffet of faux food items appropriate to their diets: pretzel rods stood in for bamboo shoots and chocolate eggs for reptile eggs.
“And remember when Emily cried, because she couldn’t have anything but grass,” Manley recounted, causing everyone in the room to erupt in laughter and at least one to be mildly embarrassed.
Emily Oritz had chosen a kangaroo as a child and thus was only allowed to eat lettuce.
Of the 26 students Manley had that year, 13 returned as planned.
Jordan Foresta, son of the school’s parent coordinator, was tasked with seeking out his former classmates through Facebook, some of whom had moved away and sent their regards. Those who remained said they had an ah-ha moment when they got the notification.
“Of course, the intentions were there,” said Ethan Widawsky, who had been a polar bear and dined on marshmallows dubbed polar bear pies. “I was surprised when they remembered it.”
Still the figure of authority, Manley instructed everyone under the age of 20 to sit on the floor in a semicircle where they reprised a game they used to play entitled “Who Wants to Be an Animalaire?”
Afterward, the shoebox time capsules parents had held on to all these years were opened. Isaac Collins gleefully displayed the four teeth contained within his, Ortiz perused showtimes for “Toy Story 2” and “Being John Malkovich.” Most got a kick out their undeveloped ï»¿grammar skills and realized how silly their expectations of their future lives seemed in retrospect.
Austin Silva, who will attend Hartwick College next year to study English and philosophy, questioned his mother, Ruth, when he read that his favorite food had been spinach.
“I mean I like it, but it’s not my favorite,” he said.
Manley gave her former students advice as they prepared to go off to college and encouraged them to reach out to their parents.
“Your mothers and fathers stay with you because they can’t get rid of you,” she joked.
The Critter Cafe had been reconstructed for the evening, and Manley said everyone could be omnivores, so as not to leave anyone out.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.