First, there was schoolwork in the morning. But as the clock approached the noon hour, it was time for Thursday’s picnic for students and their families at Oro Grande Elementary School. More than 250 people gathered on the lawn at the school to enjoy each other’s company under partly cloudy skies. A light breeze drifted through to keep everyone cool.

Since it was an early release day, the classrooms emptied out at 1 p.m. Most of the crowd moved indoors to the school’s gym for a science fair.

The event was a mixed bag of science experiments, neatly lettered posters and even a smoking volcano. While those exhibits drew plenty of interest from parents and students, there was one attraction that was hard to beat – live animals.

Most of the critters were exotic, including Kayla Griswold’s many lizards. The kids gently held the fragile reptiles, petting them like kittens. Among the docile creatures were leopard geckos and bearded dragons. The lizards remained unflappable despite being passed around from child to child and the high noise level in the gym.

A couple of aisles over, Jacob Barclay maintained a loose grip on his pet, a diminutive ball python. Other students were anxious to touch the snake and Jacob obliged. “Oooh” and “wow” were frequent reactions.

Then there was the chinchilla named Betty. Fifth-grader Aaliyah Mittlebach said her pet was five years old and resided in the family’s living room. Aaliyah spoke quietly as Betty snuggled into her chest, happily swaddled in a small piece of cloth. Betty is about the size of an adult guinea pig; her fur was ultra dense and uncommonly soft.

Over at the desert tortoise display, students took turns gingerly holding the hatchlings. The baby tortoises seemed as curious about the kids as the kids were of them. The tortoises didn’t shyly recede into their shells. Instead, they kept their heads and legs fully extended and seemed to enjoy the extra attention.

An elaborate Lego layout created by third-graders Yoseline Dorantes and Mackenzie Smith drew plenty of attention because of its many motorized features. Entitled “Mission: Moon,” the launch pad and its many outbuildings were made entirely of multi-colored Legos.

A large section of the room was devoted to rocks and minerals. Delisha Perry and her daughter, fifth-grader Jade Salon, examined the wide variety of rocks and picked out a few to take home. Sorting through a box of fulgurites, they were surprised to learn that the tubular rocks are formed when lightning strikes sand.

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