Zoo Outreach Program Makes Special-Needs Classrooms Go Wild

By Marilyn Koziatek

Special-Needs Zoo outreachA classroom for students with mild, moderate and severe learning disabilities turned into a zoo for a day at Granada Hills Charter High School as the Los Angeles Zoo brought critters and crawlers with their Special Needs Education Outreach Program. Students with disabilities were able to interact with live animals while learning about their habitats from tactile biofacts. The trained zoo docents are certified in the handling of the animals and gave each student an opportunity to touch a rabbit, a guinea pig, shingle-backed lizard (skink), non-venomous snake and view a hedgehog.

The special education program at Granada Hills Charter High School is grounded in the philosophy that all students can learn and each student with a disability receives a personalized program. A general education teacher and special education teacher work together to provide support for the entire class with students of all ability levels.

The Special Needs Outreach Program of the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is specifically created to reach out to individuals who cannot easily visit the zoo. “This program is so valuable to our school because it brings the zoo to us,” says Brian Bauer, executive director of Granada Hills Charter High School. “Having the animals brought here makes the experience accessible to students of all ability levels.” The docents explained the unique biological aspects of each creature’s behavior and diet, providing an educational lesson that enhances the regular classroom curriculum.

Zoo special-needs outreachThe Zoo’s program is specially designed for schools serving children with special needs, hospitals, daycare centers and nursing homes. Docents bring the zoo outreach vehicle to the location and deliver a 30-minute program tailored to the abilities of the audience. Discussions are designed to be participatory and tactile.

In the classroom at Granada Hills Charter High School, the students broke into big smiles when the rabbit was passed around, and a few cringed at the scaly lizard. The bell rang too soon, sending the students to the next class, but with lasting memories of the day the zoo came to school.

Visits from the Special Needs Outreach program are subject to availability, and completely free to the school or organization. Interested schools and programs can make reservations by calling the zoo’s docent office at 323-644-4702 or emailing docents@lazoo.org.

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