WLHS, Willamette partner for Lions Helping Lions
by: Lori Hall Sophomore Connor Gardner, right, helped second-grader Austin Hart with his lion story March 16.

This year's theme at West Linn High School is 'pride,' a fitting title for the school and its lion mascot.

What many don't know, however, is the number of lions in the world is rapidly heading toward extinction - a matter of concern for the students who identify with the mighty cat.

In the winter of 2010, WLHS Associated Student Body and Leadership adviser Butch Self took a group of students to Chicago for the national Leadership conference. One morning, at breakfast while watching 'Good Morning, America,' the show featured the documentary, 'The Last Lion.' The group learned that the lion population in Africa was nearing extinction, having gone from 450,000 to 20,000 in the last 50 years.

'None of us knew that,' said Self. 'That seemed like a natural fundraiser idea for us.'

It took a full year for the idea to come to fruition, but the WLHS Lions have been raising funds for lions, as well as educating fellow students and the community on the cats' potential demise.

The ABS and Leadership groups have been working to raise funds for the National Geographic's Big Cat Initiative.

To spread word of the lions' peril, the high schoolers partnered with a second-grade class at Willamette Primary School, which happens to be Butch Self's wife's class.

Denise Self's class wanted to do a community service project this year and she thought the lions would be a perfect fit.

Butch Self said lions could be extinct in these second-graders' lifetime, and teaching them about the issue now was important.

The second-graders have been studying animals and their habitats since Christmas, and about lions in particular since January.

On Friday, March 9, the second-graders travelled to the high school to meet ABS and Leadership members. The little ones were buddied up with the high schoolers and they created a painting of a lion using each of their fingerprints.

WLHS art teacher Lynn Pass designed the painting and outlined it similar to a paint-by-the-number.

'It's really a beautiful piece of work,' said Butch Self.

Together, the students also started writing storybooks about lions in Africa.

The high school students then came to visit Willamette Primary on Friday, March 16, to finish working on the storybooks.

Second-grader Austin Hart wrote a story about a lion who lost his mane.

His buddy, sophomore Connor Gardner, said the declination of lions is 'terrifying, actually, how fast they are disappearing.'

Gardner said he grew up with lions, watching the 'Lion King.'

Senior Taylor Finch said the lion problem is not known. 'It's far away, but it hits home. It should be brought up; not a lot of people know that.'

Her buddy, second-grader Cade Fernando, was writing a story about two lions that were trying to solve the mystery of another lion's death. Fernando said he was sad that lions were dying because people were taking away habitat where the lions live.

The Lions Helping Lions partnership is ending this week. On Wednesday night, the high school showed 'The Last Lion' as a fundraiser and auctioned off the painting the students created.

The high school also ran a promotion asking each student to bring in at least $1 for the Big Cat Initiative.

On Friday, the high schoolers will bring their little buddies to the Oregon Zoo to visit the lion exhibit and take part in the endangered species habitat program.

Besides raising money to save the lions, both the high school students and the primary students gained other benefits.

'My kids get an opportunity to bond with younger kids and get to share an experience with them,' said Butch Self. 'They'll remember being with these kids and learning about the loss of lions.'

He said one of the district's goals is to raise children who can change the world.

'This is how we do it,' said Butch Self. 'It's really about my kids raising awareness about the lions' situation.'

The second-graders equally gained more then education about lions.

Denise Self said the high school students 'are mentoring in so many ways. Just having that one-on-one attention … it really gives (the second-graders) a sense of where they are going and who they will be. I think it's great because these high school kids are such great role models.'

With this year's Lions Helping Lions such a success, Butch Self doesn't see it ending any time soon.

'We'd like to continue to keep doing this,' said Butch Self.

To learn more about the Big Cat Initiative, visit

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