Students at the Franklin Park Zoo’s summer learning program learn about wildlife and conservation through hands-on learning at the zoo, as well as math and ELA curricula. Zoo New England is part of the Summer Learning Project, partnering with BPS and BASB to prevent summer learning loss.
Customizing academic material to students’ interests and surroundings benefits students by making learning more engaging.
Drawing connections between academics and enrichment learning allows students to activate critical thinking strategies.
Having open communication between teachers and staff, as well as providing teachers with the materials and information they need facilitate the smooth running of the program.
Supportive staff and teachers enhance students’ academic experience, allowing them to learn as much as possible without falling behind.
Q: How do you create a curriculum that challenges youth in a good way? Can you explain the planning process or specific tools you’ve used?
A: We challenge the students academically by presenting familiar topics in a new light. During the lesson planning phase, the teachers and I collaborated on potential zoo-related topics and how we could put a zoo spin on their curriculum in order to tie it all together and create a foundation upon which we could build each day.
Q: How does student learning here differ from in-school learning, and how have you intentionally created a learning environment that achieves this?
A: Being in the zoo each day opens up unique resources for teaching. We can use the animals, staff, and park itself to show students real-life examples of what they are learning. The students are learning in a “living classroom” and gaining valuable hands-on experiences that will really set their summer experience apart.
Q: What information and skills do students learn here that transfer to academic advancement in school?
A: Students better their communication, self-regulation, and teamwork skills in this program. For example, the students wrote essays about gorilla behavior based upon their own observations. This required them to communicate and explain what they saw, then use critical thinking to form a conclusion of their own.
Q: What is it about this program that helps youth be successful academically?
A: This program allows students to take responsibility and pride in their accomplishments by restructuring each topic to spark students’ passions. Students weren’t just learning about how a simple machine works or how water pollution can have negative effects, they were seeing with their own eyes how these topics relate to the animals they care about in the zoo. From here, the students constructed their own projects on each topic. Thus, the students are interested in the topics and have invested in their own work.
Q: How do you provide support to teachers to ensure they’re being as effective as possible in class time?
A: The zoo can support teachers to ensure they are being as effective in class time as possible by providing resources and information that help the teachers relate topics back to what the students are learning during zoo enrichment time. We keep communication lines open all day and meet after class weekly to give and receive feedback from one another as well.
Q: How do you provide support to youth to ensure they’re getting the most out of academic time?
A: Our youth are supported by every employee in the zoo. The zoo staff participate in the student’s enrichment time, and attend the end of the program ceremonies to see what projects the students have created. The teachers and I are always available to provide students with the resources they need and answer questions they may have. We kept daily schedules flexible in case it became apparent that students needed extra time in one area or another.
Zoo New England at the Franklin Park Zoo is a summer program serving BPS students from the Young Achievers, Charles Taylor, and Haley schools entering fourth and fifth grades. Academics are based in BPS curricula and are taught by BPS teachers, while zoo staff provide animal-focused enrichment. Students have the opportunity to blend these two aspects of their summer learning, allowing them to interact with zoo animals through their projects.