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. 

Key Takeaways

  • Giving students autonomy demonstrates staff’s supportiveness.

  • Earning respect from students requires respecting them in return, and setting clear expectations.

  • Students should be recognized and rewarded for accomplishments and good behavior.

Q: Are staff members at your program genuinely interested in what students think? How do they communicate that?

A: Yes, staff are genuinely interested in what students think. We communicate that by offering student choice in projects, activities, and discussions. Students submit a ‘question of the day’ pertaining to the zoo that is then the basis for a discussion with zookeepers and zoo education staff. The large project students complete by the end of the summer, which includes a written informational essay and shadow box craft, is based on an animal of the student’s choosing. When free-time arises, students are able to select which area of the zoo they want to visit. Holding students to a high level of responsibility and self-autonomy lets students know that their opinions are valued.

Q: What would a staff member do if a student was upset, or struggling with something?

A: When students become upset or struggle with something, it is important to staff to let the student explain their frustrations at their own pace. In this situation, a staff member would typically take the student on a walk to see an animal exhibit, allowing the student to decompress and relax. From here, they would open a discussion about how the student was feeling and what they could do to address the situation. We always try to follow-up with students afterwards to ensure they were satisfied with the outcome.

Q: What training does your staff receive regarding supporting students?

A: Outside of the required professional development seminars for the Summer Learning Project and the courses teachers take during the school year, we offer a teacher orientation at the zoo before the program begins. During orientation, we review zoo policies, curriculum objectives, and the areas assessed by the SAYO, then determine how we can meet the desired requirements while ensuring students feel supported. It’s important to our program that students are frequently rewarded for achievements and good behavior. Last year we implemented a “prize box” with small toys that students could select from as rewards. We also host an end-of-the-summer ceremony to display the students’ projects. Parents and zoo staff are invited to help the students celebrate their accomplishments and show-off what they have learned.

Q: Do students in your program respect the staff? How do staff elicit that respect?

A: Overall students have great respect for the staff. It is important to review program guidelines with parents before the program and students at the beginning of the program. That way, both parents and students understand what is expected. Once guidelines are established, the staff can assert themselves as authority figures that require respect. Establishing consequences for breaking guidelines, as well as following through on consequences, helps maintain students’ respect. Most importantly, when students know that staff value and respect them, the students value and respect staff in return.


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.