- Associated Press - Sunday, May 29, 2016

MELBOURNE, Fla. (AP) - During a recent fire drill at Suntree Elementary, Jana Gabrielski watched one member of her class lose his cool. The siren’s screech panicked him as he bolted to the exit.

Yeah, it probably wasn’t the smoothest move. But cut Sergio some slack. After all, he’s only 3 months old.

And a duck.

“That alarm went off, and he was terrified,” Gabrielski recalled of the 7-pound, ivory-hued quacker. “He just took off after us, racing us to the door.

The incredibly social Pekin duck’s reaction had students and staff in stitches as they waited out the drill on the Melbourne campus, she said. “He was out waddling out in the field (during) the fire drill,” Gabrielski said of Sergio’s back-and-forth pacing. “It was hysterical.”

When you’re raising a duck on school grounds, fun little moments like this become the norm. And they offer learning opportunities that no written curriculum can match, staffers say.

Sergio was born in Gabrielski’s sixth-grade classroom Feb. 24, the only duck egg of more than 30 that students had attempted to hatch this year. The project is a spinoff from a yearly chicken egg incubation. When all the other eggs rotted, hopes weren’t high a duck was going to surface.

And then, a tiny Sergio hatched.

“Little ducks are the cutest thing,” Gabrielski said, noting the original plan was to have someone on a farm adopt him. “He was just adorable. We decided to keep him a little longer because he was so cute.”

That soft deadline kept getting extended. And now, it’s been decided. Young Sergio will stay at Suntree.

“This is authentic education,” the sixth-grade teacher explained. “It’s not textbook, it’s not FSA (the Florida Standards Assessment method of testing). It’s just learning.”

Just ask the sixth-graders who have been caring for him since day one. On Thursday, a group hurriedly began spouting out duck facts to a reporter as others lovingly catered to the critter.

Sixth-graders have built indoor and outdoor accommodations for the duck. The “Sergio Squad” comes in a half-hour early every day to give him fresh water and food, clean out his pens and do whatever else a duckling might need. They even built the pens themselves, learning from their wood-measuring mistakes.

“They’re amazing,” Gabrielski said of her sixth-graders taking full responsibility for their feathered friend. “I don’t do anything.”

Sergio will be fostered over the summer break and return to school in August. But fans can keep up with him via his Instagram handle, @sergio_the_duck.

Principal Mecheall Giombetti said it’s been an enjoyable, real-life connection for the 663 students on campus.

“It’s an opportunity for problem solving,” Giombetti said. “As you take on something like this, you don’t always know what to expect, because you’re constantly looking at the situation and resolving issues and making it work.”

The last lesson for sixth-graders to tackle? Figuring out how to get an adorable, people-lovin’ critter to shuffle across the stage, the final “graduate” of the Class of 2016.

“We’ll call his name,” Gabrielski said, who’s kicking around which accolade to honor Sergio for. Most adaptable? Most resourceful? Fans will have to wait until Tuesday to find out.

Here’s hoping a duck-sized mortarboard is in the works.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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