Micke Grove Zoo rests on five acres of land and houses animals ranging from amphibians and mammals to birds, reptiles and invertebrates. The uniqueness of the animals has captured the attention of children and adults all over San Joaquin County, and it is through their philanthropic programs that Micke Grove Zoo has captured the hearts of so many others…specifically, the educational department that specializes in programs designed to aid and educate the children of San Joaquin County. Allison Meador, Director of Conservation Education at Micke Grove Zoo, explains how the department began, “The Education Department was started by Micke Grove Zoological Society (MGZS), the non-profit arm of the zoo, about 30 years ago. It has bounced between management of the MGZS and San Joaquin County over the last 30 years because of the changes in the economy and board leadership.” Meador was hired as the first Education and Interpretive Services Coordinator in 2012 to manage the department after three years of vacancy in the assignment. However, Meador states that, “In December 2012 the County has decided to cease funding zoo education effective February 2013 because of budget constraints.”
Micke Grove Zoo understands the importance of education, and as a result Meador says, “The MGZS voted to reassume management of the Education Department and allow me to continue as the Director of Conservation Education. Under the last year of management by the MGZS, we have increased our outreach by 29,000 people.” To assist with funding the programs, Meador says Micke Grove Zoo was able to apply for grants that fund programs for Title I schools and expand programs and marketing, “The existing MGZS board is extremely supportive of our endeavors, and I am very proud to be affiliated with this organization.” The Education Department at Micke Grove Zoo provides programs for students, scout groups and the general public. Meador mentions all of the current programs except for zoo camp and the birthday parties have been initiated by her and her team within the last two years. There are a variety of programs that the education department provides. “Our school programs are driven by state and national science standards, including the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as well as the Common Core.”
For the school programs the students participate in, they can either go to the zoo or the zoo can go to the school in what Meador refers to as Zoo Mobile. “For pre-school children, we use the zoo and wildlife to teach them about colors, textures and the ABC’s. They meet some of the education animals and touch bio-facts, which consist of furs, feathers, skin, bones and the like.” Meador says the elementary-aged children get more hands-on activities, and teachers have the option of a classroom-style presentation and tour or a hands-on fun lab. “For middle school and high school children, we have a variety of programs that allow them to be ‘researchers’ and ‘detectives’ and actually contribute valuable information to wildlife students.” Meador says Micke Grove Zoo served about 11,000 students in 2013, compared with 2,700 in 2012.
Micke Grove Zoo also brings an incredible scholarship opportunity for Kindergarten through 5th grade teachers at San Joaquin County Title I schools called Zoo to You. The scholarship is part of the Education Department’s desire to connect students of under-resourced schools with nature and to improve science literacy across San Joaquin County. Meador is excited about the scholarship opportunity, stating in a zoo press release, “Most Title I schools cannot afford to send their students on field trips to the zoo, so we are truly happy to bring the ‘zoo’ to the students.” According to Micke Grove Zoo, the goal of the program is to improve students’ understanding of key life science concepts, to inspire them to take personal action in protecting wildlife and their habitats, and to encourage students to continue their education and potentially pursue a career in veterinary, biological, ecological and/or conservational sciences. Zoo to You is funded by grants the Education Department received in late 2013, as well as from other awards given by the General Mills Foundation and the Kinder Morgan Foundation. Meador encourages all San Joaquin County Title I teachers to fill out the scholarship application available on the Micke Grove Zoo website, www.mgzoo.com.
There are many other programs offered by the Education Department at Micke Grove Zoo, such as the private zoo camp specifically for Title I students from Lodi and Stockton Unified schools. Meador explains these students attend on a Cortopassi Family Foundation grant managed by the San Joaquin County Office of Education. “Usually, 120 Title 1 students attend those programs in the summer (240 combined in fall and spring), and 350 children attend our summer public camp.” Meador mentions one of her favorite programs at the zoo, Zoo After Dark, which was launched in March 2013. Details can be found on the website, but she says, “The zoo is turned into a mysterious place and we never know what to expect to see or hear. Of course, the S’mores and storytelling by the campfire are an added bonus.”