As 288 kids poured into the stained-glass-lit assembly area at Las Vegas’ Faith Lutheran Academy, Peyton Burns and her first-grade class sat squirming in the first two rows.
Seven-year-old Peyton — or Petey as her parents call her — sat in the front row, fidgeting with her skirt and turning in her seat to rest her chin on the back of the chair. The room buzzed with children’s chatter.
Principal Matt Fischer called their attention to the stage and introduced a park ranger to talk about Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. He and the rest of the staff didn’t tell the kids the real reason for the assembly.
Peyton was one of 4,589 Clark County students to enter the 2014 Mojave Max Emergence Contest, and she won.
Every year the “spokestortoise’ for the Clark County Desert Conservation Program comes out of brumation — reptile hybernation — and announces the arrival of spring. It’s Clark County’s version of Groundhog Day. Kids are able to enter a contest online and guess the date and time that the 25-year-old tortoise will wake up from his winter slumber.
With help from her mom, Peyton picked the date of her birthday and the exact time she was born. It happened to be the first time any student guessed the exact time and day that Max decided to wake up: 4:10 p.m. on April 7.
“I’m like ‘Oh what if Mojave Max wakes up on my birthday?’ And she’s like ‘What if?’ and I’m just like ‘Ahhh!,’ ” Peyton rambled about choosing the date.
Her distracted smile turned shocked and then nervous when County Commissioner Susan Brager announced Peyton’s name in front of the assembly. She won a laptop computer and digital camera for herself, a laptop for her teacher, and a pizza party and field trip to Red Rock for her class.
“Everyone’s like jumping all over me, giving me hugs, giving me high-fives,” Peyton said as she adjusted her sparkly, silver-starred headband and tugged absently on her wavy blond hair.
Peyton’s class also received Mojave Max T-shirts and medals, and her school will get a Peyton-sized trophy for one year.
“I like when you go on the rocks,” Peyton said about the May 1 field trip. “I like Red Rock, because on a mountain you never usually see like, red rocks.”
Contact Kimber Laux at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0391. Find her on Twitter: @lauxkimber.