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Zoo visit by students for students

Ayla Cole, left, watches fish with her dad, Dave Cole, and their zoo school guide, Stephen Marshall

A Stoney Creek Elementary kindergartner visiting John Ball Zoo said “I could sit all day just looking at that bear sitting over there.” But zoo school students were serving as tour guides for some 125 kindergartners, so there was little time to ponder just the omnivorous mammals.

The kindergartners visit the zoo every year, thanks to grants from Target and Michigan Youth Arts that cover the cost of transportation and admission. This year, admission to the zoo was free, so Target grant funds will be used for a visit to Blandford Nature Center.

Teacher Kimberly Reynolds said her students research animals before the zoo visit and use what they learn to practice opinion writing, a standard of Common Core.

Nolan Pine gets up close with a goat

“At the kindergarten level, measuring student learning can be a bit tricky and will be determined by discussions held in our classrooms, as well as the writing pieces I plan to include as a follow-up to our trip,” Reynolds said.

John Fordney, the zoo school’s English and environmental studies teacher, said his students who serve as tour guides appreciated the curiosity they saw from the kindergartners.

“I think, all in all, it is great for the kids to see the excitement the younger students have for learning, and for them to be reminded of that passion to discover new things,” he said. “The excitement of both staff and students makes it a worthwhile situation for both groups.”

Owen VandenBerg takes in the view

Reynolds said her kids and the chaperones were impressed by the older students’ knowledge. “We came back and decided not to write about our favorite animal, but instead to about a fact that we learned from the zoo school students.”

The older students learned a few things from the younger ones, too, such as how speedy kindergartners can be.

Fordney said his students commented on “how fast they can get from point A to B, and you had to really be paying close attention.”

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