Beginning in 1996, the fifth grade students from nearby Sherwood Elementary School spent several weeks of their school year in a portable classroom at Brevard Zoo. The grant-funded program utilized the Zoo’s valuable resources to teach Title I students the Sunshine State Standards through real-life experiences. This integrated, thematic approach to science, mathematics, social studies and language arts created a school out-of-doors where students composed poetic rhyme while gazing at flamingos, learned biology while kayaking the Zoo’s restored wetlands, and honed their math skills by comparison-shopping in the Zoo’s gift shop.
In 2000, the Eckerd Family Foundation awarded the Zoo $500,000 to build three permanent, individually-themed classrooms onsite—a tree house, a cave and a Florida-themed house. The concept for these unique classrooms was the brain child of Jim Swann, former treasurer of Brevard Zoo’s Board of Directors, and Margo McKnight, the Zoo’s former Executive Director. Upon completion in 2002, the Brevard County School Board expanded the program to include two additional Title I schools, Cambridge and Endeavour Elementary. In 2010, Dr. W.J. Creel Elementary joined the program, and in 2013, we welcomed Golfview Elementary. In 2018, we added a one-week Zoo school option in the Spring to open the experience up to more schools.
With Zoo School, the walls of the traditional classroom are expanded to include the ever-changing environment of Brevard Zoo. In fact, teachers find there are limitless learning opportunities around every bend in the boardwalk! On a typical day, classes meet with keepers from the various loops to learn firsthand the specific behaviors, diets and needs of particular animals. Weekly, they attend interactive “Zooriculum” programming fully aligned with Next Generation Sunshine State Standards (NGSSS) and the newly-adopted Common Core Standards (CCS) to learn about animal classifications, habitats, adaptations and behaviors, Florida’s fossil history, and Zoo-supported conservation efforts around the globe.
Whether kayaking the Nyami Nyami River of Africa in search of white rhinos, riding a train past Lemur Island and ostrich territory, experiencing up-close-and-personal encounters with the Zoo’s accommodating giraffes, or constructing oyster mats for the Indian River Lagoon Oyster Restoration Project, Zoo School students experience unparalleled learning opportunities that reinforce the value of staying in school.
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