Education Report 2020 8-17-2020 - Page 23

Zoo School:
Since 1996, a select group of Brevard County
fifth graders have had the opportunity to spend
several weeks of class time learning at the Zoo.
Dubbed Zoo School, this immersive, educational
experience has blossomed into a local success
story serving more than 3,500 Title I students
from low-income families.
Debbie Mahl, a teacher at Sherwood Elementary
School in Melbourne, first became involved in
Zoo School during the program’s second year.
At that time, the Zoo only had two exhibits. Zoo
school was nine weeks long and the classroom
was a trailer. “There were spiders and holes in
the floor, but that was part of the experience,”
she chuckled.
Having retired in 2020, Mahl is now reflecting
on the 23 years she spent with Zoo School. By
exploring the Zoo, encountering animals of
all sizes and species and just spending time
outside, Mahl says her students learned to respect
all creatures, “even the bugs.” She found they
scored better on standardized tests and she spent
less class time preparing for such examinations.
The science concurs. Study after study shows
a correlation between exposure to nature and
enhanced empathy, social skills, self-esteem
and academic performance.
Mahl herself has transformed from a casual
admirer of the outdoors to a true enthusiast,
visiting rainforests around the world and one of
the Zoo’s conservation partners in Puerto Rico.
Zoo School participants take full advantage
of the real-world classroom that is the Zoo.
On any given day, they may use scientific
tools to scoop up algae and view plankton
under a microscope, examine animals’ physical
adaptations or identify native plant species.
Through Zoo partnerships, they may even get their
hands on real fossils as they learn about dinosaurs!
A highlight for every group is a behind-the-scenes
visit to the Sea Turtle Healing Center.
Of course, it’s not all science. Virtually every
subject is cleverly woven into the Zoo School
curriculum. Students use animals to solve
mathematical story problems, use passages
about the food chain or rainforest plants to
develop reading comprehension and sketch
Zoo residents to practice art.
Zoo School has seen its fair share of changes
throughout the years. Sessions were shortened
to five weeks to accommodate more students,
and thanks to a grant from the Eckerd Family
Foundation, the trailer was replaced with three
dedicated classrooms, each themed after a
different habitat. Even as it evolves, Zoo School
remains a life-changing experience for students
and teachers alike.
Annual Educator Open House
Introduced in 1997, this annual event hosts more
than 40 organizations and businesses from across
Central Florida providing information about the
resources and field trips Brevard Zoo offers.
We support teachers with science curriculum
they can use to offer varied learning experiences
that introduce students to new animals, habitats
and experiences. Hands-on learning makes a
long-lasting impact on a child’s attitude towards
wildlife and their surrounding environment.
Learning Workshops
The Zoo hosts a series of workshops for local
teachers, scout leaders and informal educators
with organizations like the Brevard County
government, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the
National Audubon Society and more. Participants
walk away with local resources and new teaching
tools to benefit their students.