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About this elephant's trunk ...

Do you know how the elephant got its trunk? If you don't, just ask the pupils of Sclena Brantley and Teri Shaw at Cypress Elementary School.

Last week, they put on a play called The Elephant Child that let the audience _ parents, teachers and fellow pupils _ in on the secret. The Elephant Child is an African folk tale of a clever crocodile with his mind on dinner who grabs hold of what was once a normal size elephant nose and stretches and stretches it until it becomes a trunk.

The children were involved in the entire production, helping design the African jungle set and making their own costumes for the animal roles they played.

For these pupils, acting on stage in front of an audience is quite a feat. They are all in the Educable Mentally Handicapped class and range from 5 to 10 years old.

"These children have to strive harder to accomplish their goals," Brantley said. "They have to work harder than average kids. But that doesn't mean they can't accomplish their goals."

If Brantley's pupils had to work harder, they certainly made it look easy. The children all responded to their cues on time and spoke loud enough to be heard from the back of the room.

George Karnstedt, who played the crocodile, can take credit for that, Brantley said.

"I told everyone they had to talk loud enough," said George, "because my grandma has a hearing aid and she can't hear well."

Playing the leading role of the Elephant Child was Rachel Fenske. She said she had a lot of fun and practiced for a long time. Her parents, Mike and Gail Fenske, said they are proud of their daughter's progress.

"This is the best thing that's ever happened to her," said Gail Fenske. "She's a natural actress."

Rachel Welch played the bothersome bumblebee who finally makes the elephant realize just how useful a trunk can be. After the elephant gave her a swat with its newfound trunk, Rachel Welch ran across the stage. "I did it!" she squealed with delight.

"This is wonderful," said paraprofessional Teri Shaw. "It's great because even the smallest things you see them achieve mean a lot to these kids. Things that might seem insignificant to others. You can just see the smiles that come across their faces."

Putting on this performance was a perfect way to wrap up the weeks spent learning about Africa, said Brantley.

"It was fun because everything we learned in the classroom was tied into the play," she said. "It gave them (the pupils) an appreciation of a different culture. It built up their self esteem, showed them they could learn their lines just like the average child, and showed them they can achieve their goals."

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