A rare creature of the sea visited a Middletown grade school this week after students there convinced officials at the Newport Aquarium — via a home-made video — that their school was the most worthy destination.

It was a friendly competition among Middletown’s 10 public school buildings and Creekview Elementary won with students getting to host an African penguin, which may have been a first for the city schools.

The friendly and energetic female penguin — named Paula — got to meet hundreds of Creekview students up close as she waddled around the school’s gymnasium floor.

“She was a rock star with the kids,” said Principal Jaime Lierly.

Officials from Hightowers Petroleum Company helped cover the cost of visit, which included staffers from the northern Kentucky aquarium bringing exhibits from the penguin’s natural habitat, with a $2,500 donation from the company, said Matt King, director marketing and business automation for the Middletown company and a local Ohio House candidate.

“For many children in our region, this is the first time they will experience aquatic life and see a real penguin. Many kids have never been to a zoo or aquarium,” said King, who thanked the WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium and the Middletown Schools for making it happen.

Lierly said the penguin thrilled the youngsters and their efforts in creating a persuasive video helped teach them a number of valuable skills.

“They created their video. Some of them wrote a script and some of them got in front of the camera and some of them talked about how they love creatures in the ocean. And some of them talked about COVID-19 (pandemic restrictions) and how they haven’t been on a field trip in a long time,” she said.

Though she did once try to walk through on open gym door, Paula seemed content to mingle among the curious students.

“It was amazing and the kids were just beaming. They not only learned new information and facts about penguins, they actually got to see one in person and you can’t replace that joy and excitement,” said Lierly.

Once the Creekview students won contest, aquarium officials told them they had a choice between a penguin or a shark to come and visit.

“They figured out the penguin would be a lot more interactive so that’s what they chose,” she said.

About the Author