Miami Herald: Richmond Middle School’s magnet students get experience at Miami Metrozoo
Jan 21, 2010
The Miami Herald published this article on January 20, 2010.
BY MICHELLE HAMMONTREE-GARCIA
The Miami Herald
ALLISON DIAZ / FREELANCE PHOTO
Sixth graders in the Richmond Heights Middle School Zoo Magnet program get a lesson on mammels from Miami Metrozoo Education Specialist Elena Lamar, not pictured, on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010. Pictured in center, Adrian Mu-oz, 11, touches a preserved African elephant ear. Her head tilted up and feet dangling slightly above the floor, 11-year-old Michelle Hernandez sat attentively in a Miami Metrozoo classroom where she learned that ungulates have hoofs and pachyderms have thick skin.
This is Michelle’s first year in Richmond Heights Middle School’s zoo magnet program, which teaches students advanced science comprehension, research methods and critical thinking through daily classes at the zoo, 12400 SW 152nd St.
Classrooms are clad in artifacts, such as replicas of animal skulls and dinosaur body parts, huge tortoise shells and elephant ears. Lessons include going behind the scenes with zookeepers, dissecting animals such as starfish and pigeons, and creating an Earth Day brochure which students will present to zoo visitors in April.
The program is one of 11 in the nation and one of three that has on-site satellite classrooms. Some 300 students are currently in Richmond’s program.
Applicants must have a keen interest in animal science and have a C average in academics and conduct and score of 3 or higher on the FCAT.
Chris Barnett, a Richmond Middle science teacher, has taught in the magnet program for six years. He has noticed an increased confidence in the students, many of whom have sought out careers in science.
“Students feel elite, like the cream of the crop because of their hands-on experiences and behind the scenes access,” said Barnett, 31, of West Kendall. “It makes a difference in their career choices.”
The program was created in 1988 and was funded by grants from Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the Zoological Society of Florida, which is based at the zoo. Because of public school budget cuts, the Zoological Society has funded the program for the last two years — at a cost of about $50,000.
“We have been absorbing the cost and raising money through zoo memberships, individual donations and special events,” said Elisabeth Koncza, the Zoological Society’s director of education. Among the events are the Feast with the Beast, Winter Gone Wild and Monster Masquerade.
The program also gets help from parents. Lori Morrison is a member the booster club for the program and along with other parents, she raises money to offset field-trip costs. The money helps pay yearly educational trips to Monkey Jungle, Epcot and Animal Kingdom.
Morrison said that her daughter Lauren, 13, has become a “teen zoologist” and is more independent with schoolwork, even creating complex Power Point presentations.
Elena Lamar, a teacher with the Zoological Society, has noticed the same.
“By the time they are in the eighth grade, they are so sophisticated. They casually use scientific terms in conversation,”’ said Lamar, 40, who doubles as a zookeeper. “I feed off their interest.”
Lauren knew she wanted to be in the program when a teacher told her about in the fifth grade.
“All she had to say is zoo and I was hooked,” said Lauren, a seventh-grader who wants to work with tiger sharks as a marine biologist. “You have to be organized and do extra work, but it is very cool and worth it.”
Walking to the bus after a recap of the day’s lesson in front of the saddle-billed stork exhibit, Michelle imagined herself working to conserve sea life in the future.
“We live on the land and don’t realize how beautiful coral reefs are. You know they are disappearing?” said Michelle, a Homestead resident whose favorite animal is the orca whale. “I want to change that. I want to make a difference.”