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The Big Top Cafe: West 4th Graders Turn Geography Lesson into Fundraiser

Did you know that male penguins are one of nature's best 10 animal dads in the world? Ozark fourth grader Olivia Growcock does.

Did you know that Australia is not only a country but also a continent, so when you visit you are in Australia, Australia? Fourth grader Grace Kimes does.

That’s because fourth graders at Ozark West Elementary took a walk on the wild side while researching continents of the world and the wildlife that calls them home during their geography unit. 

“Our class also enjoyed reading 'The One and Only Ivan’ by Katherine Applegate, a novel based on the true story of a silverback gorilla who is plucked from his natural habitat and finds himself a captive in a shopping mall exhibit for 27 years,” teacher Ashley Evans said. “As a class, we have designed our own zoo featuring creatures from every continent and a signature cafe with cuisine. To honor Ivan, we planned this culminating activity to raise money for the Dickerson Park Zoo.”

While the project may have started as a geography lesson, teachers discovered it overlapped into other subjects — reading, informational writing and even math.

“For the cafe, we talked about a budget, estimating, adding change and it went well with our lesson on place value,” Evans said.

“It was really fun to learn about all the maps and study and read ‘Ivan,’” Olivia said. “I liked drawing the pictures for the map.”

Grace agreed the project was a lot of fun and was excited for the cafe event itself. On Sept. 12, the classes had a practice run, taking turns serving each other in each classroom. On Sept. 13, parents and grandparents attended the The Big Top Cafe where they could purchase small snacks like white tiger tails, aka pretzel sticks with frosting. All the students had a part — from a host, waiter, cashier, busser, cook, manager and even entertainers telling jokes.

“My favorite thing about the project was interacting with others and learning about favorite animals on each continent,” Grace said.

Teacher Chelsea Cason said she hopes the creativity of the project helps students remember the lessons.

“I want them to remember the things they did in the fourth grade and remember the things that they learned,” she said. “The only way I think they’re going to remember is by making memories like this.” 

And the smiles on the students' faces prove that they are most certainly making memories — and all for a good cause.

“Our goal as a fourth grade is to participate in projects that benefit our local community,” Evans said. “We hope the students learn the importance of giving back to your community and also to show empathy for all creatures and their journeys — locally and globally.”

Big Top Cafe at West Elementary