Fifteen Syracuse City School District students have been selected to participate in the ZooGuides internship program, a partnership between SCSD, the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, CNY Works, and Hillside Work Scholarship Connection, district officials stated. In addition, four returning students will participate in the ZooGuide Fellows program.
According to SCSD, the program allows students to serve as Zoo Ambassadors at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, speaking to zoo visitors about the zoo’s mission, animals, and more.
“The youth have brought a lot of wonderful energy and enthusiasm to the zoo, and it rubs off on the other zoo staff and visitors,” said Nathan Keefe, the zoo’s director of education. “ZooGuides are hired for their outgoing nature, and interest in engaging with people, and they excel at this. The youth go out of their way to learn more about the zoo, and share their knowledge with visitors, and each other. Since the program’s inception, ZooGuides have interacted with over half a million visitors.”
Keefe also said each ZooGuide undergoes 35 hours of training, which begins in the spring, and features biological concepts, animal behavior, and conservation and sustainability practices.
The students meet with staff, and take a behind-the-scenes tour to experience the way the zoo operates.
And, through the training process, Keefe said the students have been gaining valuable life lessons.
“During the course of training, they build a sense of perspective,” he stated. “The training and experience is a good chance for them to meld past experiences, new knowledge, and a developing sense of connecting the world into a work experience. We have seen leaders emerge, as youth mentor each other, and friendships develop between youth from different parts of the city that may not have been forged outside of this program.”
Once students complete the training, Keefe said they’re able to set up an ‘artifact station’ in the zoo, to interact with visitors, acting as additional sources of information regarding the zoo’s inhabitants.
“It’s so fun watching the students from the beginning to the end, watching them complete their fellows experiments, and watching them develop their skills,” stated ZooGuide Coordinator Pam Hobbs. “Some of them are so shy, and start off not saying anything to people. By the end of the summer, they become so confident with their communication skills. They won’t have any problem approaching a complete stranger and saying, ‘Hey, want to see this?’”
Officials said they created the program with the intent of helping youth gain work experience, so ZooGuides typically work four hours per week on weekends during the school year, and 20 hours per week during the summer.
In addition, this year, four Syracuse City School District ZooGuides had been selected to continue working in the ZooGuide Fellowship Program throughout Winter 2015.
Officials said the zoo held a formal reception for the students once they completed the program.