Woodford County woman brings jungle to Dunlap

Brandon Schatsiek
Rachel Knapp looks on as Jensen tells the class how he and Bungle went fishing over the weekend.

Monday through Friday, he is like any other student in Rachel Knapp’s first-grade class at Dunlap Grade School, sitting and listening intently.

The weekends, however, allow him to monkey around, spending time with friends and family.

His friends often take him to the local fishing pond, birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese and even on family vacations to Michigan.

Those are busy weekends for a child, let alone for the class monkey ­— a stuffed monkey that is.

When Knapp, a Congerville resident, first started teaching she wanted a way to recognize a different student every week, something DGS teachers call a “star student.”

“It’s where each teacher recognizes a student,” Knapp said.

“They get to bring in pictures and talk about themselves.”

Knapp made it into much more than that.

Every week a student’s name, written on a paper banana, is pulled from a basket. The student then takes the stuffed monkey, named Bungle, home with him or her.

“You should see the hands earnestly clasped together in hopes of having the banana with their name pulled out of the basket,” Knapp said.

The Monday after they are deemed “Bungle of the Jungle,” each student brings in photographs and fills out a sheet that shows the class who they are and what they like.

The week leading up to his or her weekend, Bungle accompanies the student by sitting on the student’s desk during class that week.

The weekends are when the students really get to have fun with Bungle.

“I think it’s a really neat experience,” Knapp said.

“I’m so jealous of the things Bungle does. They take him everywhere.”

The students do still have homework when they are with Bungle, however.

The students take pictures with Bungle and journal his or her adventures in a book that travels with the monkey everywhere he goes.

Once the student returns to school, the student shares the adventures with the class.

“Through (this) we validate the uniqueness of each student by learning more about him or her,” Knapp said.

“This experience reaches students in ways that are meaningful to them.”

Knapp said she believes through the writing and speech components, it shows how learning can happen in different ways and places.

“I want the kids to see that learning occurs whether at school or at home, even taking him home and reading books to him,” Knapp said.

“To me, that is my desire, to have my students have that desire to read and to show how learning outside the classroom extends to their home life.”

Why a stuffed monkey?

“I started this five years ago when I first started teaching,” Knapp said.

“We’ve had different animals — a toucan, gorilla … different jungle animals. I got (Bungle) as a present last year from a student.”

Not only do the students really like the idea, but parents seem to as well.

“I’ve had a lot of good comments come back,” Knapp said.

“One of the parents is a teacher here. From what I’ve heard, people love it.”

Although each student has Bungle for one week during the school year, Knapp said the impact lasts much longer.

“It’s such a fun experience especially for younger students,” Knapp said.

“I even had a parent tell me that the week prior to Bungle coming home with her son he had a small monkey that he slept with each night, getting ready for Bungle to come home.”