Most high school students would jump at the chance to spend half their school day at the local zoo. That’s certainly the case at Asheboro High School (AHS), in North Carolina, where students are participating in a new agricultural education program at the nearby North Carolina Zoo.
For the past 10 years, AHS has partnered with the North Carolina Zoo to give students unique learning experiences through the AHS Zoo School. Students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades can apply for the zoo school, and those who are accepted travel to a classroom and lab facility at the zoo for classes in science, technology, engineering and math.
Teachers and zoo staff work together to create lessons that allow students to observe animals and sometimes go behind the scenes with zookeepers for a closer look. The zoo school has about 130 students enrolled.
“The zoo school has long been a great asset for STEM learning. Last year, we brought our agricultural program on board,” says Elizabeth Pack, agriculture teacher and FFA advisor for the AHS Zoo School program.
In July 2015, AHS launched the Asheboro Zoo FFA Chapter, the only FFA chapter in the National FFA Organization that is headquartered at a zoo.
“We had a chartering ceremony in September 2015, and about 100 people came, including students, parents and school offcials,” Pack says. “It has surpassed all my expectations. Most of our members are urban kids with not much agriculture exposure. We’ve had a phenomenal response from students and our community.”
The Asheboro Zoo FFA Chapter started with 53 members in the 2015-16 school year. Their goal is to reach 75 members for the 2016-17 school year.
Students in the zoo school agricultural education program spend half their day at AHS and then take buses to the zoo. There, they take classes such as agriscience applications, horticulture, and environmental and natural resources. Students get hands-on, project-based learning experiences in the zoo’s greenhouses and other green spaces, including a community garden.
“In agriscience, students learn how agriculture impacts their everyday life. The first horticulture class is about plant care, and the second course teaches skills needed in the greenhouse or landscaping industry,” Pack says. “The natural resources class teaches them about things like water and soil quality. They test samples in real-world applications. In our first year, our intro to horticulture team placed fifth at the state level.”
The zoo scho