Milwaukee County Zoo
- Milwaukee County Zoo located 8 miles from city center.
- Milwaukee ranked 8th poorest large city in the U.S. (2012 U.S. Census Data).
- Milwaukee ranked as most racially-segregated large city in the U.S. for African Americans (2010 U.S. Census).
The Milwaukee County Zoo is not readily accessible to a significant portion of Milwaukee’s urban population.
Animal Ambassador Program
Through the Animal Ambassador Program students become ambassadors for wildlife to their families and potentially the broader community. In existence for 25 years, this multi-contact program offers students from metro-Milwaukee schools the chance to learn about animal survival, animal habitats and how people impact wild animals and wild places. The program serves 26 schools – approximately 60 students per school.
Sponsor involvement – each school has an individual corporate, foundation or civic group sponsor
- Teacher training for program implementation
- 1 classroom visit by a zoo educator
- 2 at-zoo programs
- Multi-school graduation ceremony at zoo
- Activity sheets to earn additional books
- Tickets for five family members to visit the zoo, including parking and tickets for zoomobile or special exhibit admission
Kids to Kids newsletter – produced using contributions from students
During their first zoo visit, students meet their sponsor and receive T-shirts with program logo on front and a sponsor logo on back. Students then experience the Animal Adaptations Lab – a station-based program about physical and behavioral adaptations. The Lab involves observation at biofact stations, computers (animals in natural habitats) and comparison of microscope slides (hair, scales, skin, feathers). Students also tour the Zoo to observe and gather information for Kids to Kids newsletter.
Beyond funding, sponsor involvement is an important element. We invite sponsors to have a representative speak to and learn alongside the students during the classroom and Zoo visits.
Classroom Visit — A Zoological Society educator visits each school to present a program focused on the three major biomes of Wisconsin and the adaptations Wisconsin animals have to help them survive in the biome in which they are found.
During their second Zoo visit, students learn about the five major factors endangering animals (HIPPO acronym) and are introduced to how the Milwaukee County Zoo is involved in animal conservation.
All schools visit the zoo a third time for a multi-school ceremony recognizing their achievements. At the ceremony, the students (and all adults present) see a PowerPoint presentation highlighting a major wildlife conservation project. As this ends, the students are addressed and congratulated (via prerecorded video) by conservation guard staff who work with Zoological Society staff in a remote reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We pronounce them official Animal Ambassadors and award certificates and animal-related books. We also distribute the summer visitation ticket packets. The school groups also present their sponsor with a token of appreciation – compiled poems, essays, artwork, etc. Sponsors and other community officials are invited and may speak to the students as well.
We encourage students to wear their Ambassador T-shirts when they return in the summer so that we can congratulate them and their family members once again.
17 of 26 schools are served at grades 2-4 through the Animal Ambassador Continuum.
EVALUATION: Because each sponsor “invests” a relatively small amount ($3500), sponsors have historically been more concerned with participation than learning outcomes. Objective evaluation is based on 10-item multiple-choice pre- and post-tests. Cognitive gains are reported to donors along with data on summer family visits. Children show knowledge gains, but evaluation is not rigorous. Lengthier testing would diminish the fun and donors have not required this. School teachers also subjectively evaluate the program through surveys.
Camps for Disadvantaged Youth
Goal: To diversify summer camp audience given greater capacity of new education facilities. Aim is to engage under-represented youth.
The Zoological Society offers single-day, topical camps rather than weeklong, themed camps. Historically we’ve met with little success with individual scholarships given to a single child – distance to the zoo was a significant factor in poor turnout since children depend on transportation. Programming was initially piloted with one community center group since participants could travel by bus (to assure high participation). 25 children attended five sequential days of camps. Three weeks of camps were initially offered to one center. Children experienced each camp week together, without the benefit of mixing with peers from other areas of the city or suburbs.
- Due to scheduling needs and safety factors within the Zoo, camps are necessarily structured
- Having 25 children who are used to free-choice learning throughout the day at their center contributed to behavior issues
- Within a large group, tensions between individuals became a disciplinary issue – requiring chaperone involvement
- Since Zoo instructors changed from day to day, this became an opportunity for some children or groups to “test” the new instructor.
- Staff ended up having to communicate an inordinate amount between days in order to convey interpersonal dynamics of concern.
- Due to a combination of factors, behavioral issues tended to escalate as the week progressed. The experience was truly diminished for those most wanting to participate in all camp activities.
- All camp staff trained in “Framework for Understanding Poverty” by Dr. Ruby Payne
- Allotted three days of camps to more centers (spread the wealth)
- Arranged to have centers organize groups of 8 children in 3 separate age groups rather than having 24 children in the same camp. Each group of 8 experiences camps alongside 16 of their peers from other economic and cultural backgrounds.
- Chaperones from centers remain outside of classrooms. Camp instructors are better viewed as authorities.
- Group-dynamic behavior issues markedly diminished.
Program has expanded to serve 7 centers. Donors value inclusion of children from diverse backgrounds.
- Involves Milwaukee County Zoo Diversity Committee members (diverse Zoo staff) who highlight their job duties and career paths to children drawn from several community centers.
- Participants are selected by centers for their academic and personal achievements.
- Participants spend a day doing behind-the-scenes tours with diverse Zoo staff.
- Participants are provided breakfast and lunch at the Zoo.
- As a “back to school” reward, participants receive backpacks containing school supplies and a $20 gift certificate to the Zoo gift shop.