Summer Zoo School at Franklin Park leaves students raving: ‘I feel like a new kid,’ learning and having fun, says one

Claire Phillips, a 15-year-old Zoo Teen from Dorchester, visits with Mayor Wu about her experiences over the summer working at the Zoo for the first time. She attends TechBoston Academy. Looking on is Site Coordinator Bernadine Lormilus. Seth Daniel photos

Dorchester teen Anne Joseph’s first day on the job last summer at Franklin Park Zoo also served as her first time inside. A student at the Jeremiah Burke High School, Joseph lives within walking distance of the facility.

Now, she knows the place inside and out after working as a Zoo Teen in the summer and a Zoo Ambassador during the school year, courtesy of the “5th Quarter of Learning,” a partnership between Boston Public Schools (BPS), the City of Boston, and Boston After School and Beyond.

“It was very close to me, and it sounded fun to be able to work in the Zoo,” Joseph, 16, said during an interview on site last Wednesday (Aug. 2). “I’d say it’s changed me a lot because there are a lot of things going on in the world you don’t know about like animals going extinct. As Teen Ambassadors during the year, we got to raise turtles.”

Dorchester teens Anne Joseph and Claire Phillips have been working at the Zoo this summer as Zoo Teens.

Claire Phillips, a 15-year-old student at TechBoston Academy, joined the Zoo Teens staff for the first time this year. “I saw it as a great opportunity to work outside and to work in an outdoor space with the animals,” she said. “Actually, helping with the kids in Zoo School opened my eyes a lot about how development in children really works and the things you say and do stick with a child for a long time,” she continued. “It made me think about being more aware of my words and communicating better with others.” These are lessons she will take back to high school in the fall.

The Zoo Teens and Zoo School were highlighted on Wednesday with a visit from Mayor Wu and Boston Schools Supt. Mary Skipper to observe the learning that happens in summer programming with Boston After School and Beyond.

Chris Smith, of Boston After School, said they have about 20,000 students this summer of all ages at 260 sites participating in academics in the morning and on-site learning opportunities like at the Zoo during the afternoon.

“This is the biggest and best year yet,” he said, noting that there were 200 kids at five sites around Boston when they started. “Kids are showing up this year at a high rate because the programs like this one are really engaging. We know that kids that show up at a high rate in the summer outperform their peers in math and language arts.”

Skipper said she has observed the students at the Zoo doing their academics, math, and English Language Arts (ELA) during the morning, and then going out in the field with the Zoo animals to apply what they’ve learned. “This brings learning and fun together, which is how education should be,” she said. “That’s what makes Zoo School so special.”

“I did Zoo School, too,” Wu told the students” …I learned about different animals and about all the work it takes to take care of them and keep them happy and healthy.”

Zoo School Site Coordinator Bernadine Lormilus noted that many of the kids in Zoo School – including herself when she was a child – cannot afford to come to the Zoo outside of this summer program, which is why she said it’s so important.

“These kids not only close the gap on learning, but also get opportunities they may never have had before,” she said.

The day, and the summer, were summarized by Grove Hall’s Jordan Clark II – a fourth grader at the William Monroe Trotter School. “I feel like all the activities and days I’ve spent here – I feel like a new kid,” he said. “It’s only been three weeks so far, but it’s really fun. I feel like the Zoo could be a school…Every kid should go to this school to have fun and to learn.”

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