It’s often observed that an achievement gap exists in STEM fields among non-Asian minorities and low-income students. A study out of Penn State University and the University of California, Irvine, suggests that without intervention, this achievement gap starts in kindergarten and persists through middle school, if not longer.
One method for overcoming this achievement gap is to get kids interested in STEM fields through hands-on experience. Many local zoos offer such opportunities through summer camps, overnight sleepovers, and classes for kids and teens. Check out this A-Z list of unique STEM programming at zoos throughout the United States.
The Akron Zoo in Ohio offers a Zoo Camp for kids ages 2 through 15, as well as a unique Snooze at the Zoo program, which invites kids and their families to stay at the zoo overnight and learn what goes on behind the scenes. Another activity, FrogWatch, shows how frog and toad populations differ depending on environmental changes in a particular area. Additionally, the zoo hosts career days when children can learn about animal-related zoo jobs.
One of many youth programs offered at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, Quests provides young visitors with educational games and lab-related activities throughout the zoo that mimic the work of veterinarians and animal scientists. Additionally, the zoo offers internships for high school students interested in zoo careers.
The Cincinnati Zoo hosts a lecture series in which world-renowned scientists, explorers, conservationists, and naturalists share their stories. The zoo also has a program called Family Community Service, in which participants complete projects designed to conserve local wildlife. Plus, the zoo offers Zoo Academy, a high school program where juniors and seniors spend two hours of every school day engaged in hands-on activities related to science, plants, and animals that can help lead to a career in conservation or veterinary science.
Secret Science Days at the Denver Zoo focus on the science involved in running a zoo and caring for its animals. Through the program, children participate in observational studies, reflect on learning objectives, and interact with zookeepers and veterinarians. For those needing financial assistance, a scholarship program is offered.
The Detroit Zoo has enhanced its STEM programming for the city’s underserved youth with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. These programs include Family Fun Nights, with a focus on animals’ nighttime activities. The zoo also sponsors a program called Africa Adventure Stories offered throughout each week that highlights the real-life stories of people who grew up in Africa and served as safari guides. Additionally, the zoo hosts the Berman Academy for Humane Education, which focuses on teaching people to treat other people and animals respectfully and compassionately.
Great Plains Zoo
At the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, kids can join the weekly Saturday Science Club, which focuses on math, science, and engineering skills related to animals and animal habitats. Additionally, the zoo offers a junior zookeeper program for youth ages 12-18.
John Ball Zoo
The John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan, offers several “behind the scenes” activities for youth, such as Keeper for a Day, which involves shadowing a zookeeper to learn about animal care practices; Sneak-A-Peak, which provides an opportunity to observe animals in the areas where they stay when not on exhibit; and Close Encounters, which allows kids to enter display habitats and take part in animal training sessions.
Just outside of Minneapolis, the Minnesota Zoo offers a monthly Family Nature Club focused on animal homes, the shapes and sounds of nature, and other fun topics. Wild Days of Play provides an opportunity for kids of all ages to simply play in nature, with themed sessions revolving around mud, water, and the many colors of the natural world. Additionally, the zoo offers Zoo Crew, which allows youth in grades 4-7 to learn about the care of animals in habitats including farms, aquariums, the tropics, the ocean, and Minnesota.
Prospect Park Zoo
Through the Discovery Center at Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, New York, young children can interact with animals and nature through play and hands-on instruction. Additionally, the zoo offers internship, research, and discovery guide programs for teens.
Reid Park Zoo
In Tucson, Arizona, the Reid Park Zoo has held STEM days featuring both science-related and animal-related activities, focusing on such areas as static electricity, robotics, radiology, reflexes, plate tectonics, solar viewing, and animal feeding, among others. Many of these events have featured nationally prominent scientists as guest speakers.
Woodland Park Zoo
The Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington, offers a Zoomazium, an indoor area featuring a mountain cave, treetop rope bridge, water hole, and a stage for theatrical presentations, all with educational aspects related to the zoo. Meanwhile, Bug Club gives children ages 5-12 years old the chance to explore biodiversity, the connection between bugs and people, and bug conservation. Middle school-aged youth can participate in Zoo Crew, which focuses on helping traditionally underserved populations learn about STEM subjects through environmental conservation lessons. Additionally, the zoo offers the Seattle Youth Climate Action Network for teens interested in learning more about climate change and what we can do about it.