By Kay Nguyen, email@example.com
1:08 AM EDT, June 16, 2013
The South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has a new mascot.
The school isn't dropping the Pioneer name, which has been used for decades, but a stuffed black bear named Sir Black-Beary has become a fixture.
"It's a more tangible mascot," said Marje Kaiser, school superintendent. "It's something the kids can relate to."
Sir Black-Beary has cheered on students at track meets, met with the South Dakota Board of Regents, has been there for graduation ceremonies and even had fun at Storybook Land.
He hangs out at the school and has traveled with students and Kaiser.
"They look forward to seeing what he's wearing," she said.
He's currently sporting summer duds: a blue school T-shirt and sunglasses. He gets dressed up for holidays and special events.
She's brought the bear everywhere and asks people to have their picture taken with Sir Black-Beary. Kaiser said she has never been turned down.
"You do look a little strange when you carry a bag with a bear in it," she said.
The photographs help students connect with a broader world, she said.
"It's a great tool," she said.
Occasionally, Sir Black-Beary can be found in the elementary classrooms at the school. When students were learning about hibernating animals, the stuffed bear was placed in its own den.
Sir Black-Beary was embraced by students and staff members when Kaiser brought him to the school. Students and staff chose the name around the time of the 2011 homecoming celebration.
Blaine Jemming, 8, said he likes the bear and remembers Sir Black-Beary celebrating his birthday and Valentine's Day in the school dining room.
"I would miss him if he weren't here," he said.
Kaiser bid on the bear at a fundraising auction during the South Dakota Association of the Blind in 2011. He wasn't scheduled to stay long.
The winner of the stuffed animal is supposed to keep it for one year and take photos of it throughout that time before returning it the following year for the auction.
At the end of the year, students and staffed petitioned the state organization to keep the bear, and it is now permanently at the school. Kaiser and the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired have joint custody of Sir Black-Beary.
Kaiser donated the same amount she originally bid for the bear to the South Dakota Association of the Blind and replaced the bear with a new one.
Students like Blaine who study at the school during the year know that he's always around, but Sir Black-Beary has also captured the hearts of summer students.
"He and I are going to be friends," said Savannah Westrom, 13. "I like what he's wearing."
Kaiser said she finds herself buying accessories and T-shirts for Sir Black-Beary on trips.
"We've developed quite a wardrobe of things," she said. "It's been a lot of fun."
He has a mini Louisville Slugger bat from a trip to Kentucky, various accessories for holidays and a T-shirt from Canada, among other things. His personal effects fill up a chest in Kaiser's office at the school.
She said Sir Black-Beary still hasn't forgiven her for one thing: being dressed as Dorothy, complete with ruby slippers, for a trip to the Land of Oz.
"He didn't like that very much," she said.
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