Ryan on Safari

When it comes to special gifts, they don’t get wilder and woollier than what Ryan gave to his class.

Ryan wanted to go to the aquarium and he made that point abundantly clear. But the aquarium was not a viable option for a school field trip and Colleen, the Assistant Director of Education for Crotched Mountain School, made that abundantly clear to Ryan.

Now, in years past, this news may have been delivered with bated breath. Ryan wasn’t especially known to handle “no” with a particularly tempered reaction. A young man with a strong autism diagnosis and limited communication capability, Ryan would sometimes express his frustration with his inability to transmit his emotions with self-injurious or destructive behavior.

So receiving that negative answer to his aquarium request might have had some chaotic repercussions; but, thanks to the hard work from Ryan’s staff, teachers, clinicians, and, of course, Ryan, himself, those instances have significantly dropped in frequency.

In lieu of the aquarium, Colleen offered an alternative option. How about the zoo? The aquarium was certainly preferred–it was a favorite destination for Ryan and his dad and Ryan’s favorite animal was the penguin–but the zoo was cool. Giraffes. Lions. Zebras. Not bad.

Ryan thoughtfully considered it and decided that, yes, he was into the zoo idea. Matt Jones, his teacher, asked Ryan how’d he like to go: 1) by himself or 2) with his whole class. The answer was immediate: “Whole class.”

The answer was immediate: “Whole class.”

This trip was now special for two reasons. The first: it was a reward for Ryan’s good work during the transition to a new classroom with new classmates (something he had struggled with previously) and, second, it was a gift he was giving, of his own volition, to the people he shared so much of his life with.

Well, there’s a third reason too: animals are awesome and few students at Crotched Mountain love animals as much as Ryan.


What was the destination zoo for this Crotched Mountain safari? Ryan was into exotic animals and that meant the Franklin Zoo in Boston had to be the one. A quick call over to Franklin Zoo office, followed by the necessary donation request paperwork, led to 20 complimentary passes for staff and students.

Three vehicles departed Crotched Mountain School on October 21 to make the 2+ hour drive from Greenfield to Boston. The sky was clear and the temperature had inched up to the mid-40s, a welcome respite from the string of cold, raw, wet days that kicked off the week.

The convoy eventually made landfall and the party set off to take in the sights, the sounds, and, yes, the smells of the Franklin Park Zoo. Grazing Zebras! Prowling tigers! Roaring lions! A lounging gorilla! Anacondas! Kangaroos! Monkeys! Tropical birds! Peacocks!

For the next hour, the group filtered throughout the zoo, enjoying the bright sunshine and pleasantly balmy-for-late-October New England weather that appeared to have been tailor-made for the field trip.

And for Ryan, there was no doubt where he wanted to kick off the mini-safari: the lions.


Ryan likes what he likes. And what he likes, more than almost anything else, is Disney’s animated classic The Lion King. Travis, a Crotched Mountain teacher who had worked with Ryan for years, estimates that he may have watched The Lion King with Ryan several thousand times.

“I can recite every song from that movie by heart,” he said.

The film was a great incentive for Ryan to work towards, and when he accomplished his tasks for the day, he could often be found taking in the movie at the Media Center. It was just the perfect mix of animals (which he loves) and a little bit of chaos (which he kind of loves too).

But today, it was time to see the real thing. Together, Ryan and his two favorite staff members and Stephanie, his Speech Therapist, made a beeline for the Franklin Zoo lion pen. Luckily, the lions were just as eager to take advantage of the weather as the visiting humans. They were out and about, bellowing their roars with the decibel level of an F-15. Ryan and company peered into the corral to take in the sights. He couldn’t take his eyes off them.

Just over an hour later, Ryan had seen it all and he and his classmates convened at their meeting spot. Staff exchanged stories and congratulated the students. Not a bad way to spend a school day. And just before the group departed the zoo to head back to New Hampshire, Ryan regarded the zebras one more time.

Then he left with his friends.

Thank you to the Franklin Park Zoo for their generous donation to make this trip possible and thanks to you, our donors, for supporting the work of Crotched Mountain School. These trips are supported with donations to cover the significant staffing and travel costs.

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