WCS school is no zoo; wins major honor

A unique school for children interested in learning about wildlife, and becoming stewards of the land, is now receiving national attention for excellence in education about the natural world.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums awarded its top honor in the field of education to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation, located at 2021 Mohegan Avenue.

The school, which opened in 2007, was founded in collaboration with the Urban Assembly, a non-profit group that creates theme-based schools in the Department of Education school system, and by Phipps Community Development Corporation.

It has just added the 9th grade and will add a grade each year until it becomes a 6th to 12th grade school.

Donald Lisowy, WCS director for education, said that the school was founded because his organization and others believed there was a need for wildlife education in the Bronx. The school offers a double-dose of science classes, with a special wildlife-themed science course developed for each grade in addition to standard science classes.

“This year the school took home the AZA’s top award in education,” Lisowy said. “This was very exciting. We waited three years to submit the paperwork for the award because the submission requires extensive background and we needed to build up a body of evidence based upon interviews with parents and students.”

In order to receive the award, the school was reviewed by peers who work in zoos and aquariums all across the country. While many have extensive educational programs, the school is the only one in the nation that is a public school with a special emphasis on teaching about wildlife.

“We competed with programs from all over North America,” Lisowy said. “In creating the school, we thought that this made for a wonderful opportunity for students who are enrolled in public schools and have an interest in wildlife. The students take an extra science class every year, and zoo personnel collaborate on designing the curriculum for that class.”

For example, the 6th grade takes a class called “habitat ecology.” Because the children are taking more science classes, the principal has been able to fast-track many of the kids, Lisowy said.

Some of the students are taking the Environmental Science Regent in the 8th grade, when normally it is offered in the 9th grade.

Congressman Jose Serrano acknowledged the achievement of the school.

“The Bronx Zoo has always helped to educate and enrich the lives of the young people of the Bronx,” Serrano said. “Programs like the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation show that collaboration and hard work can produce outstanding educational results anywhere in our country.”

Students at the school use the Bronx Zoo not just for instruction in the sciences, but also for English, Math, and Social Studies classes. This is because the conservation theme is integrated across the curriculum.

In a recent progress report, Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation received an “A” rating in every single category that the DOE measured.

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