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ATC helps bring school to the zoo

Last fall, American Transmission Co. contributed funds to help establish Zoo School at Madison’s Henry Vilas Zoo. The program was created to address the needs of students who struggled to get access to the virtual school format during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zoo School is a collaboration between the Henry Vilas Zoo, the Madison Metropolitan School District, Madison School and Community Recreation, the Bayview Foundation, a nonprofit organization that owns and operates an affordable housing development and community center near the zoo, and the Goodman Community Center.

In spring of 2020, when the pandemic hit and schools had to shift quickly to virtual classrooms, many students, including some in the zoo’s neighboring Bayview community, were left behind. The following summer, Henry Vilas Zoo was able to successfully put together a safe educational camp program and realized they could modify their program to safely educate students in their facilities during the regular school year. Thus, the idea for Zoo School was born.

The zoo reached out to the community to fund Zoo School and submitted a request to ATC for support. ATC approved a donation of $2,500 to support the estimated cost of one student to attend Zoo School.

Zoo School is a great success. The program has served 26 students over the course of the school year including kids from Bayview and other high needs communities. Students have enjoyed reading to the animals, unique adventures including snowshoeing on Lake Wingra and weekly field trips to nearby parks thanks to the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, another zoo partner. Students are at a number of different school levels, and instructors coordinate with MMSD on virtual schedules and assignments. Two nutritious hot meals a day are provided by the Goodman Community Center. Zoo School continues today and is anticipated to continue until Madison schools reopen.

Henry Vilas Zoo Conservation Education Coordinator Jess Thompson said, “The kids have been able to keep up with their virtual schooling, and it’s been incredible to watch their progress in confidence, empathy for animals and people, and scientific inquiry skills. Some students who didn’t show up for a single virtual class in the spring are now connecting with their teachers every day and completing homework assignments.”

ATC is proud to support community efforts like the Henry Vilas Zoo School that help everyone in our community thrive and succeed, especially during these unprecedented times.