Posted by: JulieAloha | June 10, 2012

Sun, June 10, 2012: Zoo Training

Yesterday was my second Training day for my summer job as a Zooper Day Camp Instructor at Woodland Park Zoo. Now…training is mostly about rules and regulations, policies and all those boring, niggly little details and paperwork…however, when your current working conditions have been reduced to adversarial sniping and outright harassment from your supervisor, isolation from peers and support, rising fear that your job will disappear due to administrative mishandling and poor business practices, as well as the resulting stress and reduced health – you have no idea how wonderful it is to begin working for an employer who genuinely cares about the work you do, about the safety and positive experience of both their employees and the children they teach – I’ve been so incredibly happy the last two Saturdays and I can hardly wait to begin this summer!

Last Saturday we got our keys, uniforms, training manuals and a few fun gifts – zoo magnets and patches – and began training. Our supervisor is frank and straightforward, she conducts training with great good humor and easily shares authority with her leader team, who obviously trust her and have a great working relationship with her. We did a silly, fun ice-breaker activity which we can use with the kids, but beyond the activity itself they talked about the importance of gauging your group of kids as to what level of risk and comfort level they might be able to stand, taking age and ability into consideration, the goal being to introduce kids to you and each other in a fun and engaging activity without alienating or frightening them. It would be easy to simply give us a list of ice-breaker games and activities, but I love how they delved into the whys and wherefores, giving the activity layers of deeper meaning and making it a real teaching tool. Ahhh, so refreshing! I’m the kind of person who thrives on learning new things and knowing why and how things work and how they connect with and affect each other – I’ve been starving for this kind of learning and hadn’t recognized the need. We covered a lot of nitty gritty details, but all in the same vein as the opening activity – all done with great thoughtfulness as to how each component served as an important piece of the whole. We spent a great deal of time going over the security precautions of check-in and check-out; each child has a Kid Code which must be used daily by each adult coming to collect the kids at the end of their program – no one is allowed into the education building without that Code. We learned about using our radios and emergency codes and whom to call in case of whatever difficulty arose, from bee sting to lost child to animal escape (all things I hope to avoid). By the time I came home I was almost in tears, so happy and grateful to work in a place where I feel supported and valued as both a teacher and a person.

Yesterday was equally fun, informative and supportive. We did another fun ice-breaker activity, toured the Education building, set up our time sheets, and got to explore the Bio-Fact closet – bones and pelts and real materials we can check out to give the kids a unique experience with the animal world and teach them about conservation. We learned the extensive effort they have employed to secure the kids’ safety as to allergies at mealtimes: we lay out several different tarps, a general food tarp for kids without allergies, a nut-free tarp for kids with nut allergies and a miscellaneous tarp for kids who have other contact allergies other than nuts. After lunch every child cleans up their space, dividing their waste by recyclables, compostables and garbage, washes their hands and has free-time play while some of the staffers fold up the tarps carefully so that the top of the tarp never contacts the bottom of the tarp or the floor, carry them out to a safe area to shake off any excess food, refold them and store for cleaning – all this so there is no chance of cross-contamination. It may seem excessive, but the safety of kids is paramount and we’re not going to risk kids’ health for convenience. This kind of preparation and thought has been put into every aspect of the programming at Woodland Park Zoo – I can’t say enough how excited and relieved and happy I am to be a part of this organization!

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