Local boy to share in panda naming

COVINGTON - Seven area children will be a part of Zoo Atlanta history in a few days.

Seven Newton and Rockdale kids and eight other area children who were adopted through Chinese Children Adoption International will participate in the Dec. 8 panda naming ceremony at Zoo Atlanta.

They include Covington resident Sam Potts, 13, and Conyers residents Claire and Ansley Smith, 7 and 11; Jaynie, 4, Henry, 4, and Emily Adams, 5; and 12-year-old Lauren Kuhn.

"Our children will have the chance to connect in a very special and personal way with a culturally and environmentally significant aspect of their birth culture," said Lily Nie, founder and CEO of CCAI, a charitable nonprofit child placement agency that has placed more than 8,000 Chinese children in the United States and more than 500 in Georgia.

The ceremony is for the newest giant panda cub at the zoo; as part of Chinese tradition, the panda will not be named until it is 100 days old, which is Dec. 8.

Zoo officials will unveil the panda's name at the ceremony and hold a celebration in its honor.

Starting at 10 a.m. Dec. 8, the 16 children will be part of a daylong celebration.

They will get to participate in a lion parade at the zoo, complete with traditional Chinese music and special commemorative pin giveaways. They also will perform at two celebrations, including a private ceremony with Chinese officials and dignitaries, as well as a public event at the Coca-Cola World Studio in the zoo's Conservation Action Resource Center.

At the two performances, the children will sing the song "Panda Mimi," which is a song about a panda mother and her baby.

"They had to learn it in Chinese, but none of the kids speak Chinese, so they had to do a lot of extra rehearsals," said Sam's father, Ross Potts. "They gave them a CD, and they are supposed to practice at home on their own, too."

He said the kids have worked hard at singing the song and at speaking the Chinese words, which look extremely different from American letters, so they had to come up with a phonetic equivalent to the American language.

"It's fun for the kids and good because they don't have many opportunities to connect with their heritage," Potts said.

Potts said he adopted his son before his first birthday, so he is glad he has this opportunity.

"He hasn't been back to China since he was a baby, and there are not a lot of opportunities to speak Chinese - they don't teach it in the schools - so it's a neat thing," Potts said.

This is the second time Sam has been a part of a panda event at the zoo; he also was part of the panda exhibit opening ceremonies when it was unveiled several years ago.

"It's a connection with the adopted children because the pandas are adopted, in a way, by the zoo," Potts said of the program.

Those interested in helping choose a name for the panda cub can vote online until 4 p.m. Wednesday at www.zooatlanta.org.

More information about CCAI is available online at www.chinesechildren.org.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.