The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) recognized the achievements of Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo during their annual conference this year. The Zoo received Top Honors for their Zoo School education program. Zoo School was set up during the summer of 2020 to address the needs of families with school-age children in Madison as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in earnest.
“This is an incredible achievement, especially during a pandemic,” said Education Curator Jess Thompson. “It took a village to make this happen and I’m thankful for all the staff who made this possible.”
Zoo School was designed to support families struggling to find childcare during the 2020-2021 virtual learning school year. The Zoo partnered with the Bayview Foundation, a community center with housing for low income immigrant and refugee families. The program was set up for kindergarten to 5th grade students who came to the zoo and had daily classroom care, free meals, and access to technological support. The program ran from September 2020 to April 2021, when the Madison Metropolitan School District began in-person learning again.
Thanks to Henry Vilas Zoo’s existing scholarship program and with support from Dane County, the Zoo was able to provide the program at no charge to participants. The Zoo modified the Glacier Grille restaurant and a portion of the Discovery Center to turn those spaces into two classrooms that served a total of 20 students.
AZA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and 12 other countries.
“It is important for AZA and its community to recognize excellence, and that is what our Honors and Award program does,” said AZA President and CEO, Dan Ashe.