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Groundbreaking act

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BURBANK — School and city officials broke ground Monday on the future site of a garden and tortoise habitat at the Community Day School, which they said will be a boon for students’ self-confidence and the city.

Kobe, an African tortoise that officials said is between 3 and 5 years old, will be the sole resident in the $20,000 project to bring a garden and habitat to the school.

“Kids here might not have anything to hold on to,” said James Dobkowski, a science teacher at the school for at-risk seventh- through 12th-graders. “Kobe will be part of an opportunity for them to get to know an animal hands-on and take part in its upbringing.”

Plans for the project, funded by the Leadership Class, include a small grass area to be accompanied by flowers, fruits and vegetables, which students and staff members will plant, Principal Christine Krohn said.

“We want to make it stuff Kobe can eat; he’s an eating machine,” she said. “This is great for the kids. Any time you bring something in, especially animals, they feel they have control over it, they get respect from it. It makes them feel better. Those little things can make a difference in kids’ lives.”

Having the tortoise at the school has also taught students to be more responsible, teaching them to clean up trash that Kobe might eat as he wanders around the school’s grounds, she said.

From a teacher’s standpoint, the benefits of the project are three-fold, Dobkowski said.

“This is an interdisciplinary study,” he said.

“They will make observations and write in journals, which is English; they will study the dimensions, math; and when we talk about social studies and what’s going in Darfur we can say, ‘That’s where Kobe is from.’”

For now, though, the students seemed excited by the opportunity to care for an animal some see as nontraditional.

“I told my friends about this,” seventh-grader Carlos Cortez said. “Some asked why we didn’t get a dog or something. They think we’re turtle-lovers. But there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Leadership Burbank, a nine-month leadership-training program for emerging and developing leaders who live or work in the city, is sponsored by the city, the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, Burbank Unified School District and Woodbury University, said Gary Olson, president of the chamber and member of the program’s board of directors.

The 23 class members voted to fund the garden and habitat as their service project for the class, asking each of its participants to personally solicit financial support from friends, associates and family members, said Barry Gussow, a marketing consultant from Burbank.

“We tried to do something for the city of Burbank and for these students,” he said.

In April, Gussow and other leadership class members began raising funds and, as of Monday, have culled $12,000 en route to its final goal of $20,000, he said.

Current and past members of the leadership program attended the ceremony Monday, including City Manager Mary Alvord, who serves on the organization’s board of directors.

“Some of these kids aren’t necessarily here by choice,” she said.

“You do need some sort of alternative type of education for them to find some common ground and help them have a successful education. This is a great life lesson.”

Trevor Rapp, a social studies teacher at the school, agreed, saying a positive, hands-on classroom environment could help his students achieve a sense of normalcy.

“The goal is to get them back on track and back to high school,” he said.

The garden and habitat are scheduled to be completed by May 22, officials said.

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