Even though they've been relegated to distance learning, 2nd Graders studying African animals and 4th Graders learning about endangered species and conservation have had a special resource this spring: the animals and experts at Zoo New England.
Nora Lee '10, education specialist for Zoo New England, has Zoomed with students, introducing them to some of her animal friends at the Franklin Zoo in Boston and to important concepts in wildlife conservation. The idea of zoo Zoom sessions came to Nora and her colleagues earlier this spring when they realized they would need to move to online classes, given that the zoo is currently closed to visitors, thanks to coronavirus.
Nora, who discovered her love for nature and wildlife during Country School trips to places like Grass Island and Gulick's Pond in Lower School and the Delaware Water Gap and Moab, Utah, in Middle School, thought of her former teachers when she and her colleagues began talking about piloting virtual programs. "I figured this would be a good opportunity to do some programs for the school since travel is no longer a limitation," she said in her query email to TCS. "It would also help us get a better understanding of what teachers and students are looking for in an online program and what works in those situations."
The answer from her former Country School teachers was a resounding yes. To date, Nora has had live Zoom chats with 2nd Graders, who, as part of their study of the African continent, discussed camels in the Sahara (and met some of the zoo's Bactrian camels – Nora explained the differences between Bactrians and Dromedaries) and lions in the Savannah. They will also "meet" and discuss gorillas for their exploration of the Tanzanian rainforest.
During her Zoom sessions with 4th Graders, Nora and students have discussed endangered species and the zoo's conservation efforts as well as actions students can take to protect wildlife. Since the 4th Grade is in the middle of the traditional state study (who could forget "Fifty, Nifty"?), Nora has also been able to share information about animals from different regions of the country. She has even had some one-on-one conversations with a 4th Grader who has a deep interest in shark conservation.
Stephanie Johnson, who taught science to Nora back in the day – and whose classroom houses the Lee Discovery Center, a gift from Nora's family – says it has been wonderful to bring an outside expert into her classroom. And it's a special treat that the expert is a former student.
As for Nora, she says it's been "really cool to teach a lesson for my 4th Grade science teacher's current class." Nora, who received her studied BS in Ecology and Conservation from Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, wrote her thesis about the impact of Environmental Education programs on attitudes and behavior, drawing on both her Country School Outdoor Education experiences as well as her experiences interning at the Franklin Park Zoo.
"The fact that I was able to reach out to teachers 10 years after graduating and receive such an enthusiastic response demonstrates how strong the TCS community is and how special those student-faculty connections are," she said. "I hope the students know that they've played an important role in helping the zoo continue to educate and inspire!"
Thank you, Nora, for bringing such a rich experience to The Country School – no doubt these students and teachers would be happy to help test a pilot program any time.For anyone interested in learning more about Zoo New England, visit their website at https://www.zoonewengland.org or join their #ZooToYou program on Facebook every day at 1:30 p.m. The zoo also invites the public to book virtual experiences. To support the zoo's work and its animals, go to: https://www.zoonewengland.org/act/give-now-all-for-our-animals