Unplugging a teen can be a daunting task in today’s world, but the Zoo Teen program at Rolling Hills Zoo not only does that but also provides a unique venue for teens to engage the world in which they live, while also building life skills and exploring possible career paths.
Forty-four teens were accepted into the Zoo Teen program this year. These teens began their journey last January when they submitted their applications. Like any job, the applicants had to submit a letter of recommendation and go through an interview process. Once accepted into the program, the teens attended mandatory training sessions and pledged to abide by a code of ethics. They also committed to 40 hours of volunteer service at the Zoo during the months of June and July.
The Zoo Teen experience teaches youth, ages 14 – 18, about leadership, responsibility, public speaking, community service and job skills. It also gives them a unique opportunity to learn first-hand about conservation efforts locally and around the world. The Zoo Teen’s activities include manning the face painting, giraffe feeding and snow cone stations; running the recycling program and assisting with landscaping and special events at the Zoo. The Zoo Teens also serve as camp leaders during the Zoo’s summer camp program.
This year Rolling Hills Zoo’s education department purchased eight robotic kits with a grant provided by the Greater Salina Community Foundation. The robotic kits were used to teach campers how a robot moves in comparison to real life animal movements and how an animal’s movement determines the type of environment in which they live. The Zoo Teens were an instrumental part of leading campers through the process of building their robots and then teaching how this technology and science can be applied in the real world.
Teaching people about animal movement is not limited to the summer campers at Rolling Hills Zoo. Zoo Teens manned touch carts in the Zoo and talked to guests about animal movement and how it directly relates to the type of environment in which an animal lives, and how various species make up an ecosystem.
Through their volunteer efforts at the Zoo these youth explore a number of career paths, including the fields of biology and animal husbandry, engineering and technology, hospitality and guest services, entertainment, education, horticulture and conservation. After going through the Zoo Teen program, or other programs at the Zoo, local youth are now pursuing zoo-related careers or other opportunities at the Zoo. These include Jonathan who is now a vet intern at K-State; Reed who is employed at the Sedgwick County Zoo; Colin, a former camper and Zoo Teen, is currently a head instructor with the RHZ Summer Camp program; Tristin, a former Zoo Teen, is working his way through college as a RHZ tram driver; Wyatt, who went through the summer camp program, is now a Zoo Teen; and Amy Barnhill, former intern at Rolling Hills Zoo, is now the Education Director at Rolling Hills Zoo.
“We appreciate the funding we received through the Greater Salina Community Foundation to support the work we are doing through the Zoo Teen program,” said Amy Barnhill, RHZ Education Director. “The robot kits provided an avenue to not only engage our campers by combining technology with nature, both strong science fields, but also challenged our Zoo Teens in the technological progression of building, demonstrating and applying this science to the real world – creating a win/win for both our campers and our Zoo Teens.”