El Dorado High School students took a behind the scenes tour of the El Paso Zoo giving them the opportunity for project-based learning in their International Baccalaureate biology class.
The unique experience was made possible after their teacher, Amber Berestein, won the Innovative Teaching and Training grant by the Texas IB Schools Association (TIBS). The award recognizes outstanding IB teachers and programs, and provides enriching academic experiences for students.
Berestein was one of six Texas educators to earn the $1,000 TIBS grant for her unit of study IB Biology HL Zoological Cooperative. The program is the first of its kind in El Paso. It allowed students to learn about wild animals, their habitats, conservation issues, and the ways in which they can contribute to their preservation.
“Ecology and conservation are a very important part of our curriculum,” Berestein said. “It’s one thing to talk about it in the classroom, but I wanted to bring the kids to ecology and conservation, and what better way than at the El Paso Zoo.”
Students appreciated the two-day hands-on approach to zoological preservation. Aside from seeing the exotic animals, they signed petitions to help the critically endangered Mexican Wolf, visited the medical facility, and the commissary where the animals’ diets are prepared.
“I really enjoyed the firsthand experience,” said Riley Perez, a senior at El Dorado. “I was never aware of the conservation project that the El Paso Zoo is a part of, and the role they play in conserving different species and animals.”
Another student, Kaitlyn Rodriguez, said her favorite part was touring the medical center, seeing the equipment they use on animals, and how they care for them to keep them healthy.
“This has been a really cool,” Rodriguez said “It’s relatable to what we learn in school. It’s like we get a visual of what we are learning.”
“My students were impressed with the conservation programs,” she said. “They couldn’t believe how big behind the scenes is. It’s important to expose them because a lot of them haven’t been to the zoo since they were small and some of them haven’t been at all.”
The El Paso Zoo will work with Berestein to leverage the opportunity as a pilot for future high school programs with a science focus, said Zoo Director Steve Marshall.
“(Berestein) is an example of innovative teachers all over this region that think creatively and see the zoo as a powerful classroom resource,” Marshall said.